Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Join me at the Ottawa Search and Digital Marketing Meetup

On January 30, I'll be discussing in depth the process that the University of Ottawa went through in overhauling its main website which went live last November 2013.

The live site was the culmination of many months of work which not only involved rethinking how the university communicates through the web, but also the technology and process behind it.

I'll be touching on several topics in my presentation such as:
  • how to choose a web content management system
  • going responsive (re: mobile)
  • making it bilingue
  • ensuring it meets the needs of our critical audiences
  • making sure it makes a statement.
Any other subject you'd like me to address, leave a comment or I'd be pleased to chat at the meetup.

Register in advance

What: The Ottawa Search and Digital Marketing Meetup: Not Your Typical Education Site. The Overhaul of
When: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Time: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Code Factory

Coffee and apps (the edible kind) courtesy of Grounded Kitchen & Coffee bar

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mobile Demystified at untether.talks

Mobile. Image by Kevin Harber, Flickr. Illustration by Jeff Stevens.
Link, the journal of higher education Web professionals, recently published my summary of the untether.talks conference, held June 26 and 27 in Toronto.

This two-day brainchild of Canadians Rob Woodbridge, mobile advocate and founder of, and Douglas Solytys, was strong on well-honed provocative speakers including:

Read the article to discover what were my top ten takeaways.

Photo credit: Mobile Image by Kevin Harber, Flickr. Illustration by Jeff Stevens.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How cute cat videos enable revolution

Secretively planning a revolution?
I've been catching up on my podcast listening lately and on the top of my "listen and re-listen" list is the 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, "Cute Cats and the Arab Spring" available on YouTube and as a CBC Radio podcast.

In it, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, gives an overview of why social media tools have been effective in enabling dissent and revolution in other countries. 

However, it's not because "earnestness" has been woven into the code of sharing tools such as Twitter and Facebook. It's rather their ease-of-use (or "UX" as they say in the Web 'biz) and their low-brow content (read: proliferation of cat videos, Justin Bieber and Kardashian sibling updates) that make them so powerful.

Three reasons why this podcast is a "must-listen"

1. It's a good primer on human rights and security attacks

Anyone who cares about freedom of information and the Web needs to know about denial of server (DOS) attacks and the role such attacks play in denying people access to information via the Internet. Zuckerman explains the role these attacks play in censoring information relations to human rights abuses, in easy-to-understand language.

Here is a quick definition of DOS attacks, courtesy of KeyFocus:

A denial of service (DOS) attack is an attempt to over load a server by sending a very large number of requests to the server with the aim of over-loading the server's resources, so that it can no longer cope with legitimate traffic. Hackers that launch DOS attacks frequently use several machines to launch an attack at the same time to generate the maximum numbers of connections and band-width usage.

2. Why we care more about cat videos than human rights abuses

"Do you really want to take me down?"
Humans being humans, Zuckerman says we tend to offer lip service when others' rights are infringed upon, but take away our (insert luxury item or activity here) and suddenly you have our full attention.

When sites devoted to human rights group are taken down in DOS attacks, the ripple effect is felt by an earnest minority.

But social media is most powerful when it is trading in the banal and in the most intimate -- earnest pleas for your sympathy and overt sales pitches are the first to be un-followed.

Hence, the only way one's comfortable reality will be infiltrated is when a DOS attack which was aimed at taking down that a video illustrating human rights abuses also takes down that daily cute cat video that you (secretively) share with your "friends" and your daily life has suddenly been inconvenienced.

Even if the "kitty-on-treadmill" wasn't the target, it has become the collateral damage.

3. Zuckerman is immensely listenable
Ethan Zuckerman (Author photo: Erik Hersman)

"Cute cats" is an easy-listen podcast, surprising for its heavy subject matter.

Zuckerman also positions social media in such a way that non-geeks and the Facebook-adverse can understand.

For Web professionals, it's further proof that Web tools are most powerful when they are intuitive and easy-to-use.

And for us communications geeks, it's further proof that the silo-ed media model of the 20th century is now a seamless global conversation, where articles from People, Mad Magazine, The Economist and Human Rights Watch co-exist in the same space and are interdependent.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The importance of being

Twelve years ago when I had to chance to purchase a domain name, I purchased that of my name. My first book was being published by a Toronto publishing house and my name seemed to be most consistent element on which to "hitch my horse".

Fast-forward to 2008 and I'm taking a "social media guru" out to lunch to get his take on using Twitter and Facebook to promote my then-upcoming young adult novel. Since social media had seemed to have disrupted notions of the Web, I was considering creating accounts which would advertise the name of my book or the genre in which I was writing.

The guru shook his head vigorously. The basic rules of the Web still hadn't changed:

  • Whatever you do online, you should use and promote your real name. 
  • Not the name of your company (which can change and evolve).
  • Not the name of your book (there's always a newer book coming).

The golden rule of Web: In an online world, your essence is your brand. And for most of us, our essence is best represented by our name.

The benefits of being who you are

  1. You become memorable
    • ...rather than that 10-year-old book that is now out-of-print but has morphed into an epub.
  2. You become findable 
    • Search engines love domain names, Twitter handles and Facebook accounts. If you want your name found, make sure that your name appears in these crucial fields. (This is known in the Web field as "search engine optimization".
  3. "You" are flexible to remain "you"
    • The fields in which I'm working today didn't exist when I went to University. The speciality fields in which I'll be practicing in a decade are not yet mainstream. You have to be free to adapt with the ever-evolving times. 
And, perhaps the number one reason:

If your real name and face are attached to the content that you're posting, you'll think twice or thrice, or ten times about what you're posting to the world before you actually do it.

Since content published online can follow you for your entire digital life (and beyond), taking the time for a sober second edit is always advisable.

Why anonymity doesn't work (as well)

A recent CBC Ideas podcast reminded me of the continuing importance of using one's real identity online.

In the 2011 Dalton Camp Lecture, veteran print journalist Neil Reynolds addresses the declining trust that the public has in journalists today. He opines that a reliance on anonymous sources has eroded this trust.
Would you trust this egg?

While one could argue that other factors have played a part in this erosion, the fact remains that in the online world, accounts that clearly appear to represent real human beings are more trusted (aka more "followed" and "friended") than those that use pseudonyms or sport an object as an avatar.

On Twitter, the accounts that are most followed  have three crucial elements:
  • They have a full name of person
  • Have a picture of that person
  • Have a personalized description
The reason? Most people don't want to talk logos (or eggs, for that matter). They'd rather chat online with people and be reasonably assured that the person who is replying back isn't a bot or misrepresenting themselves online. 

Building trust starts with choosing a name and that name tends to be one's own.

Thoughts? Counter-arguments? Accompanying statistics to prove or disprove?

Cheers, Nichole

Sunday, November 6, 2011

UXCamp Ottawa 2: UX Redux

The styling UXCamp Ottawa 2011 logo
  • University of Ottawa
  • November 5, 2011

For the second year in a row, the University of Ottawa was the official host for Ottawa's popular usability camp, an event which is gaining popularity and clout among techies in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor.

"UX" is short-hand for usability, essentially "design that works for everyone". This volunteer-led "unconference" served as a locus to bring together more than 200 private and public sector Web, graphics and technical professionals for one day of learning, sharing and inspiration. Here were some highlights:

Democracy is a design problem

Boston-based usability pro Dana Chisnell has some strong opinions about design, but her pronouncements that design affects world peace and democracy does bear fruit.
Owly Images
Dana Chisnell shows an example of a Canadian election ballot...albeit with fictional characters

In her morning keynote, Chisnell had only to show various voting ballots that had confusing design to prove her point. "When business in government includes design," said Chisnell, "things are better for everyone."

Chisnell's clarion call to the room full of UX professionals was to share our expertise:
Chisnell herself contributes to the Civic Design / Ballot Usability blog.

Her inspirational quote of the day:
"Go beyond just letting things suck"

Designing from 7 to 70

In his entertaining plenary talk Gabor Vida, president of the Ottawa company Teknision Inc., contrasted two UX design projects that his company had done:
  • one for a 7" screen, 
  • the other for a 70" screen.

The first referred to the UI work that Teknision had did for RIM's PlayBook. (right) 

The second referred to developing an interface for a 70" multi-touch screen with integrated Kinect hardware (aka a "big honking monolith") that will serve as a Minority Report-type mall kiosk of the future.

For both projects, Vida emphasized the golden rule of simplicity:

"If you think you're done, take away half and then take away half again and then you're done."

Other salient points made by Vida:
  • "It used to be that the key differentiator between devices was the hardware. Now the key differentiator is the interface."
  • "The definition of device is changing. For us, it’s anything with a screen."
  • "Find your Capo D'astro bar aka your key differentiator."
  • "Let your limitations become valuable"
I'll end with my favourite Gabor Vida quote of the session:

"Remove anything that could be remotely cool and stick with the simple stuff."

(Heavy sigh). O-kay.

Remember to thank the volunteers

Hats off to another professionally-run unconference, and thanks to all -- attendees, speakers and tweeters -- who contributed to the UX culture of generosity.


Presentations, blog posts, summaries, etc.