Content 2013 conference links

Not sure where to start with CS? Try @jcolman’s EPIC guide for content marketers http://www.jonathoncolman.org/2013/02/04/content-strategy-resources/

Did I mention the pig in rainboots? http://www.peoplepets.com/people/pets/article/0,,20494390,00.html

Winchester Mystery House on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Mystery_House

Manarola on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manarola

15 minutes on the Art of Making Stuff Backwards http://www.besquare.me/session/arse-over-tit-the-art-of-making-stuff-backwards/

Start to get to grips with the critical components of a content strategy with @Braintraffic: http://blog.braintraffic.com/2012/07/from-the-archive-brain-traffic-lands-the-quad/

Creating Web Content – articles about research – http://readlists.com/416d54f5/

Creating Web Content – articles about page tables, templates and content modelling – http://readlists.com/7564afae/

Creating Web Content – articles about writing for the web – http://readlists.com/b93a910f/

Beware of mis-interpreting user choices via the medium of Bermuda Shorts – http://rel.ly/2012/03/bermuda-shorts/

Creating web content – articles about measuring, modifying and selling your skills – http://readlists.com/1fb07464/

Content Strategy For The Web – The Perfect Gift For The Whole Office! http://contentstrategy.com/

Silverback App – for super easy testing http://silverbackapp.com/

Content Strategy For Mobile by @karenmcgrane – http://www.abookapart.com/products/content-strategy-for-mobile

The Construction of Instruction http://24ways.org/2009/the-construction-of-instruction/

Varnish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varnish_%28software%29
Cucumber http://cukes.info/
Puppets https://puppetlabs.com/puppet/what-is-puppet/
Told you!

From the amazing Erin @kissane – The Elements of Content Strategy http://www.abookapart.com/products/the-elements-of-content-strategy

Other recommended books can be found here: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/mydirtylaundr-21

if that all seemed a lot to take in, then worry not – none of us know it all: http://rel.ly/2011/07/wavingnotdrowning/

Doves and Eagles

Thing 1, aged 6, wrote a poem today:

Doves and eagles
Are the finest birds in the world.
Parrots are funny.

I love birds
I love bugs too
But I think birds are the best.

Robins are beautiful.
Puffins are cute.
The birds that I like the best
Are doves and eagles.

So are rabbits and I love birds.
Ducks are birds but I don’t think
Ducks are the best sort of birds to choose.

I love birds
I love bugs too
But I think birds are the best.

Look ma, I’m a coder now!

Speak and Spell tou

Speak and Spell tou
Last week I had the great fortune to attend Seb Lee-Delisle’s fabulous creative javascript course for non-coders. It was brain-bending and tiring and frustrating and eyeopening and amazing. What did we do? Over the course of two days we went from ‘so, er, what’s javascript?’ to ‘hey, check it out, I’ve made a simple particle system and it changes size and colour too!’.

There were 10 of us (8 gals, 2 guys) from a variety of backgrounds but all with the common thread of not really having much to do with code. Seb took us through some basic drawing commands (using HTML canvas, not that it made much difference what we were drawing on) and the first hour or so was spent making wobbly aliens. In fact, have a look at mine. (works best in Chrome). Better than that, I (mostly) understand what I wrote to make it happen. There was a lot of experimenting and happy accidents throughout the course. As an example, when I made that alien, I edited and re-edited several commands to work out why the circle I drew was the size it was, or why it was a random colour or opacity and then scribbled down lots of notes.

The thing that was so good about this course was not only was it very visual – you could see the results of what you had just done, then and there – but it was a great way to learn the building blocks of programming slowly, being able to ask dumb questions and finding others nodding along too. Being a nerdy child, I learned to code in Basic when I was around 5 and was pretty darn competent age 9 or so (before someone told me that girls don’t code and I was letting the side down). I was delighted to find the stuff lodged in the back of my brain – dusty and ignored for a couple of decades – were still relevant, things like loops and arrays and variables. Though the syntax and language was different the fundamental stuff seemed to be the same. Not that this gave me much of a head start, as Seb’s examples were really clear and almost everyone was ready to throw in their own ideas and tweaks in no time. Every new tweak elicited an ‘oooooooh!’followed by some frantic cog turning to work out why what had happened did happen.

This course doesn’t make you a fully proficient javascript wizard in two days but it does give you a working glossary of examples and ideas to understand what the hell your developers are going on about. I have a much deeper appreciation for the detailed eye required to create good clean code, and I’m much less impressed by people who can create wobbly aliens for show. And you can definitely go on from here to become a javascript whizz.

As for my next step, I’ve bought a book on Processing and I thought I might give Corona a poke about. That and my blog will soon have a big, blobby, random rainbow particle system for a background. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

And just to show how easy it is, Seb made this adorable video:

Why I like International Women’s Day.

International Women's Day logo

International Women's Day logo

 

I’ve seen a range of grumbling on Twitter today from chaps who think International Women’s Day is inherently unfair and not doing anything for equality. So, I thought I’d post some interesting titbits.

1) There is an International Men’s Day on the 19th November. As there should be. Men have plenty of gender-based issues that should be given more public awareness – things like childcare inequality, value within a family unit and men’s health issues to name just a few.

2) International means just that. While you may see your female co-worker doing exactly the same job as you and wonder what the fuss is about, Plan UK highlights the inequality for girls the world over, with their campaign Because I Am A Girl. Forced marriage, no access to education, childbirth while still a child and female genital mutilation is a reality for millions of young girls. Feel free to sponsor a kid to help them out of that situation. Plan will help you select an area of the world and the gender and age of your sponsor child if you like. This isn’t to say bad things don’t happen to boys, of course they do. But girls are traditionally less-valued than boys and are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday in many communities. They are often seen as a commodity to be traded, rather than people. And helping girls in this situation is actually the key to helping boys too. By educating young girls, they are more likely to remain healthy, will marry at a later age and for every year they are in education they are likely to increase their earning capabilities to pull themselves and their families (including their sons) out of poverty. Those sons will come to respect women, and will break the chain for their own wives and daughters. According to Plan UK, 75 million girls worldwide are missing out on this opportunity.

3) Of course, it isn’t all roses in the garden back home either. This Sunday, Celibate men will use their pulpit to decree gynecological health care cover for women to be a sin. This reinforces the message that sex is only for within marriage, and marriage is only for making babies, and that none of this ever requires any sort of medical assistance. (For those of you still wondering if there is a gender neutral campaign to support, you could do worse than to examine the Catholic Church’s stance on the abuse of children within its care. Systematic and Industrial Scale are two phrases that spring to mind. But women wanting to opt out of babies. That’s the worst.) Access to advice on reproductive issues, abortion and contraception is increasingly under fire for reasons of religious dogma and cost-cutting.

4) Contraception issues leads me in a round about way to the thorny issue of child care. Did you know, in the UK a chauffeured car is a business expense but child care is not (outside of the fundamentally flawed voucher scheme)? I can tell you from experience this makes running any kind of business hideously expensive. Most of my money goes on childcare. Without access to contraception, I’d have several more children by now (assuming my fertility holds up) and I’d be at home, unable to work because the cost of childcare would be too great – and frankly, I’d be too knackered. Sex is the glue that holds relationships together (sorry if that’s, er, too visceral an image). Those relationships are often what support a happy family life. If a family choose to have lots of kids and one, or other, parents wants to stay at home that is *fabulous* – but that’s a choice. Not because of a dictat from men who have forgotten about women.

5) The recent round of cuts in the UK impacts on women disproportionately, often because women are more likely to work part-time, contract or on lower-wage jobs around childcare, so much so the Fawcett Society launched a legal contest in the High Court. (If you don’t have children, ask yourself – do you know what to do with a 5 year old for six weeks in the summer if you’re needed at the office everyday? Nurseries are for up to 5. Summer schools are usually for only a week or two and not all kids are suited to them. People live further away from families now to be close to their jobs. The only option is to drop out of the career circuit and take a job with some flexibility – McDonalds is meant to be excellent for its flexible working policies. Yup, I wrinkled my nose too but those kids aren’t going to disappear.) I’m lucky to have work that means I can be flexible. And by flexible, I mean I can piss off a certain number of clients by saying ‘sorry, I’m not available for six weeks’ and hope they come back to me in the future, oh and also out of pocket for a month and a half.

6) And let’s just go back to your female co-worker, doing the same role as you chaps, there is an excellent chance she is on up to 20% less than you. There is some hope: in the UK, women in their 20′s are earning around 3.6% more than their male counterparts but if you account for money lost to maternity leave (women are likely to be the primary caregivers) or to being someone’s carer (ditto), she will likely earn significantly less across the course of her working life. Not least because a spot in the boardroom is still pretty unlikely for her, so much so the EU is planning to intervene to much ire from the business community. Interestingly, this was introduced in Norway and found to make for better business, as found by Agnes Bolsø’s independent research.

These are not exclusively women’s issues but they are all issues that impact on women, often disproportionately. Even if we only have one day a year in which the media, social networks, and you and I discuss them the impact of that is not to be undervalued. That’s why I like International Women’s Day.

The 3 ingredient biscuit for entertaining small people.

a baked biscuit

I have moved this over to my recipe/parenting blog. The 3 ingredient biscuit

Tell me a story

crowded bookshelf

crowded bookshelf

As part of my happiness project, I’ve been pondering the direction of my life and the things that make me happy. I looked to what I do in my leisure time. I bake a lot, and make various army-catering-quantity sized meals for family and friends. I also read a lot of cookery books, which I wrote about in Contents magazine, in my piece The Gingerbread Project savouring the descriptions of each dish, even those I have little intention to ever make, and the notes the author brackets them with.

I play video games, especially adventure games like the Zelda series, and read critical analysis of video games and games culture. I’ve just got started with Skyward Sword (and I got Skyrim for Christmas – damn there goes all my free time!) plus I have Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap and Ocarina of time on my 3DS right now. I adore the Ace Attorney series and its offshoots. I like interactive fiction. I just recently watched the Penny Arcade Dungeons and Dragons live games and started to explore what Dungeons and Dragons is and how it works (not as a player, so much as an interested observer).

I read books. In the last few years, after a long absence due to overkill at university (hello English degree) I have got back into reading fiction and listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks especially force me to slow down and take in the breadth of a new world; my husband accuses me of skim reading every book I own, which I don’t, but the speed at which I read can sometimes detract from the beauty of the words laid out in front of me. After years of dodging the classics, after the aforementioned overkill, I recently bought a copy of Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits which starts with the Iliad and works in date order through to works of the twentieth century, via The Old Testament, Beowulf, Dante, Milton, Bronte, Tolstoy, Joyce, Kafka, Nabakov and many others.

I scrapbook. I write titbits of information about our family, I take pictures of where we go, I put books together of us as a family – who we are, what we do, what we are like. I am our family’s story keeper. I am our family’s story teller.

So, what is the connection here?

It is, I think, story.

I love narratives. I love when they weave strands and come together, knot up, fall apart and realign. I love the magic of people creating a world in their hand and building it for others to explore and to understand. Yesterday I read some hilarious cook’s notes on a failed Christmas pudding and the fallout from that, played a game where a hero must set out to fulfill a prophesy, and read the beginning of an epic war poem where two men are right now stood in front of their armies proposing a dual to settle their quarry while the gods have other ideas.

I started to write a piece for Contents that was about narrative, its history and its place in our everyday lives, but I realised I didn’t know nearly enough and I wanted to explore the topic with people that create narratives – not just in traditional novel form, or even in a published long form – but to come to understand what story means to  humans.

As such, I have created a new site (not yet live,  but it will be at http://tellingtal.es) in which I am going to explore the topic of story. I hope it will be informative. I hope it will encourage people to see story as a ribbon woven throughout their lives, connecting people and things together. Mostly I hope it will be fun.

I plan to do a series of video interviews, written interviews and explorations in different mediums. I plan to stick myself in all kinds of weird situations from archivist offices to battle re-enactment, tabletop gaming to a writing class, and share what I learn along the way.

Join me?

 

 

We need to talk about Christmas.

Christmas is back in just 357 days :D

Okay, first up, I’m not someone who spends August 31st to December 31st thinking about ‘the holiday season’ and listening to Rudolph the Reindeer on loop (well, not until December 1st anyway) but I want to mention Christmas and, specifically, the buying of gifts.

I hear a lot about how Christmas is too commercial and just a cynical way to have us buy stuff we neither need nor want, for ourselves and others, yadda yadda yadda. So here’s what I’m proposing: Don’t buy commercial crap. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty certain my kids are going to end up with something from Fisher-Price they ask for, but for gifts for aunts, uncles, parents, friends etc I’m going to get them handmade or independent retailer stuff.

Some of it I will make myself. Most of it I will buy from Etsy.com, Folksy.com and Notonthehighstreet.com.

So, why am I telling you this? Because I think half the reason we end up buying the same shit shovelled in the shelves of the same shops is because that’s what is there is at the time we come to buy it.

Buying handmade stuff, or custom order prints or having things sent from overseas takes time and planning. Most people start thinking about shopping mid-November by which time the one-person-capacity makers are usually already full. And so the same old shit from the same old shops are it.

This year. Take a stand. Make a list. Browse Etsy stores and the like. Commission stuff from sellers. Most are very open to creating something that you want, a one of a kind treasure, and there is something for everyone from hard-core gamer to a lace-loving grandma, the newborn baby to your prop-forward grown up nephew.

Refuse to be part of the commercial machine you resent so much. Plan ahead and buy something unique – just remember, don’t wait until the carols are wall-to-wall audio in the shops. If you’re really smart, and get it all bought elsewhere, you might never need to suffer a pan pipes cover of winter wonderland ever again.

Any morning that starts like this is a good morning …

light saber quote

light saber quote

At about 6.30am this morning, Thing 1 went into to see his little brother (Thing 2, naturally) and chat to him as he usually does. Often this involves Thing 1 talking about the book Thing 2 has in his cot, about what they are going to do that day or if Thing 2 wants cereal or toast for breakfast. Occasionally, Thing 1 teaches Thing 2 new words. Today was one of those days.

Thing 1: “Can you say ‘Luke Skywalker’?”

Thing 2: “Look Ty Wader”

Thing 1: “Can you say ‘Darth Vader’?”

Thing 2: “Dar Rayer!”

Thing 1: “Can you say ‘Bad white guys’?”

I think someone couldn’t remember the word Stormtrooper.

Just as I was getting over giggling at this, I heard from across the hall a faux-Yank accent and as clear as a bell:

“Can you say ‘Help me Obi-wan, you’re my only hope!’ ”

At this point I officially lost my battle to not squawk with laughter and catch the boys’ attention but oh my. I am so proud to have raised a mini-geek.

Here’s to the other stuff.

Typewriter

I am struggling to focus today. It’s hot and sticky and I work in a converted loft. This is not conducive to brilliance. Instead I have spent today thinking about life, the universe and scrapbooking.

I am a scrapbooker. It’s awesome fun. And I was reflecting on how it has made me a better person. No, honestly, stick with me. It has given me an appreciation for visual aesthetics and colour and typography. More than that it has encouraged me to broaden my horizons and find new experiences to journal about. It was the lure of lovely scrapbooking supplies that first persuaded me – long time fearful flyer – to get on a plane to the States in 2005. It has encouraged me to take photos of everything, always. I write more, I notice more stuff, I savour things happening. And it’s fun.

I have found that if I take time out from work and walk to the other side of my office and start creating something unrelated often an answer comes to me, ready to go. That’s got to be a plus (and a business expense?! ;)

The thing is I haven’t made much time for it recently and I have missed it. I just had my stash of beautiful craft things sort of dumped in drawers in the office but it’s making me kinda grumpy which then means when I do make stuff they are infused with that kind of grumpiness. First stop, sorting out my supplies so they are ready to go.

Here’s to the other stuff. The reason we weren’t meant to be at desks 24/7.

Waving not drowning: or how I gave in and learned to love the content strategy flood.

KEEPING UP WITH CONTENT STRATEGY

Here’s a sobering admission. If the body of knowledge of content strategy is an ocean, I’m currently about ten foot out from the shore – probably with a dorky inflatable ring around my middle and certainly nowhere near enough sunscreen. The comforting bank of sand under my feet is suddenly and rapidly sliding away, leaving me somewhere near to out of my depth. I’m not sure that anyone has realized I might be out of my depth and I’m not sure I want anyone to notice. That would be awkward. I’m meant to be a good swimmer, I mean, content strategist.

I had a Skype conversation with the (insanely adorable) Erin Kissane earlier this week. It started with me flapping my hands and wailing “Do you ever feel like suddenly there is SO MUCH BEING SAID about content strategy that it has now reached a point where it is IMPOSSIBLE to take it all in?!!”. I was very relieved to find she replied in the affirmative. I was beginning to wonder if it was just me.

Not all that long ago, as Kristina Halvorson said at Confab this year, it was a simple enough ask to keep up with the chatter on the #contentstrategy hashtag on Twitter and the occasional Google alerts that came in. Now it is probably next to impossible and also likely very foolish to attempt this. I mean, we’re content strategists. We crank stuff out every minute of every day. Put simply, the CS community doesn’t shut the fuck up so I am never going to catch up. It’s almost liberating to know this, in a demotivational poster kind of way.*

I have found a trend, though, where I go into client meetings with a rough outline of what I think we should do, which is met with a range of nods but then followed up by someone asking ‘What do you think about our $%£$%^ ^*&(&*&&&^!@££’. And what I mean by that is the words they say might as well be in Swahili. Oh, God, I think, another area of CS I don’t know. And then it gets awkward as they all look at me expectantly. I mean, I am a content strategist. Apparently.

I don’t know anywhere near everything there is to know about content strategy but here is something I do know: it takes a lot of confidence to say those words out loud, to a client, in a meeting.The difficulty is that content strategy is so big and covers so many aspects that I think we will have to get better at saying it. Before long we might increasingly need to band together in small mercenary tribes to cover the range of skills within CS, especially for larger projects. (You can imagine it, can’t you? One burly agency lead, a stats nerd, a library scientist with an eye for digital services and a rogue content writer – Left 4 Dead: CS edition.) But for now we need to accept that we can’t know all that there is to know that CS touches, we can’t read everything and hear everything or take part in everything spilling out of the CS community, and to practise saying ‘I’m not sure but I will look into it and get back to you as soon as I have a good answer.’ (Which isn’t, by the way, an admission of weakness. It’s just how big CS is.)

As for me, I’m still a long way out from the beach but now I’m happy to lie back in my rubber ring and enjoy the sun (dammit, still not enough sunscreen). There’s a whole ocean out there to discover but as little old me only has a rubber ring I’ve made do running a big rope back to shore. Anytime I feel I’m drifting too far out I can ask to be towed back in safely. Once back on dry land I can charter a ship and set sail for any promising new lands like a true sailor. I mean, content strategist.

*THIS DOES NOT MEAN I WANT ANYONE AT ALL TO STOP POSTING ABOUT CONTENT STRATEGY. IN FACT, IF YOU’VE READ THIS GO AND POST ABOUT SOMETHING YOU’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT RIGHT NOW!