Who are you? Who, who? Who, who?

Seriously, can we talk about this postcard I got in the mail recently? For the sake of the company, I won’t name them here, as I don’t think that’s entirely fair to them. Maybe someone from their business will see this though and take it to heart. Absent that, hopefully you’ll understand my point and never, ever send out a mailer like this.

As a marketing mailer, I’m not sure how many ways it could have failed more. The only piece of information that was on it, aside from my address was the company’s name. In the photo, you can see a fancy picture of a bird. Not pictured is the backside, which is just two more pictures of birds. That’s it. Three pictures of birds, my address, and the company’s name. But so, so many birds.

Aside from omitting their name, I’m note sure what else could have been done wrong. First off, what the hell do birds have to do with your business (answer, nothing, after looking into them)? Second, why am I getting it (I know why, I think, but have no way of confirming that)? Third, what do you expect me to do with this? There’s no information at all on the card about what sort of action I’m supposed to take, or some special promotion going on, or some connection they’re hoping to make. No call to action of any kind. No URLs. No social media information. No phone number. Nothing. The only reason I even bothered to look into the company is because marketing is something I have more than a passing connection to, and I was curious why someone would think this was an acceptable marketing campaign. What’s crazy is that this is actually a marketing firm themselves. Knowing that, and getting this, I would never hire them to run a campaign for me.

<edit>As was pointed out to me, I neglected originally to point out the big black box which implies there’s supposed to be something with it. I saw this, of course, and it only makes it weirder. Why are you mailing something that’s decoupled? Why do you expect the recipient to bother contacting the postmaster over your failed marketing mailer? Why are the pieces able to be separated at all? Why not use that space to give me some information about the campaign you’re pushing, with a link to the missing info? So many more questions are created by this that don’t help the company’s case.</edit>

Things that should have been done:

  • Include a a call to action of some kind. Any kind. Give me some idea why I got this and what you want me to do with it. Pictures of birds is not a message.
  • Toss at least a Twitter handle or something on there. Again, anything that’ll at least maybe get me to follow up with you.
  • Don’t use three pictures of birds to take up 3/4ths of your usable card space. Don’t use three pictures of anything to take up 3/4ths of you card, unless you’re including a message over the top of them. You’re just wasting printing and mailing costs.
  • Trackable URLs are your friend.
  • This is one of three places a QR code is acceptable (the other two being posters, or publications like magazines or newspapers).
  • Don’t rely on your recipient to bother chasing down missing information.

Otherwise, this went straight to the round file. Please don’t ever let your business allow something like this go out the door, especially given the cost overhead involved making, approving, printing, and shipping it. You’re burning your money.

RWD and Content Exclusion

Saying that you shouldn’t include content on a desktop website if it’s not important enough to have a place on a mobile-sized site is like saying you shouldn’t put a bathtub in a large bathroom because you can’t fit it in a small one. It’s fine, as long as you aren’t hanging the bathtub upside-down from the ceiling or some silly nonsense like that.

Commencement Livestreaming and Business Value

This time of year brings with it a particular discussion that I always see repeated in the various higher ed circles I still follow. That topic is the question of commencement livestreams. Not if universities should be doing them – dear no, that’s long since settled – but rather what should go with it. Should they be encouraging people to take selfies, what’s the hashtag, are they curating content from Instagram to a projector, are you using this tool, that tool, and blah, blah, blah. Some recent reading I was doing also felt poignant to this topic, and so I wanted to challenge my higher ed friends out there in webdev, marketing, advancement, et cetera to a question: Why aren’t you trying to focus on the business value of commencement streaming? Read More

WordPress Content Framework 2.4

What’s new in 2.4? Jump right in and view the changelog.

Nearly five years ago, I released the original version of the WordPress Content Framework, developed in the wee days of WordPress 2.5. When you start up WordPress for the first time, you get your stock theme, and a Hello World! post, but really little else. The WPCF was originally developed as a tool for me to whip up a quick WordPress sandbox that was prepopulated with an assortment of different pieces of content and information to help with the development of themes and CSS for WordPress. With the debut of that theme (which I’ve long since retired), I decided that I should make the content available as a downloadable content pack for WordPress.

wp-dbWhen you’re developing CSS, or a full theme, or a plugin, having a good base of different content, formatting elements, comments, categories, etc can be very helpful to make sure that you’ve covered all your bases properly. On the WordPress Theme Viewer, they have just such a site set up. When you test themes, a bunch of test data is displayed in the theme so that you can see how different elements interact with it. But, to my surprise, there was no where that you could download this data at to load into your own site. No demo site database, no WordPress eXtended RSS (WXR) file floating around, and no one seemed to have an idea of where you could get it.

As I talked with folks in the community, some suggested copying my current site. Others just said to toss some junk in. Quasi-reasonable, both answers, but that’s not a good solution. I want something consistent that I can use over and over. Using my own site content isn’t a good idea, because I doubtlessly do things that others don’t, and don’t do things they do. Random content isn’t thought out enough, and might miss some elements that need to be tested. My solution was to create my own site, complete with seeded content to test formatting and display. It comes with pages and sub-pages, categories and sub-categories, menus, comments, and more. There are images, there are formatting elements, and a little bit of other stuff in between. In short, most everything to make sure that you get all your formatting elements covered when designing a WordPress theme.

I also want to make this available to everyone, and will endeavor to keep it up and make it better as needs grow. Please, feel free to make comments or suggestions, and I’ll incorporate new things into it as they are made. I will also entertain the idea of creating an entire SQL file of a site, for those wishing to go that route rather than importing WXR files. WXR files are limited in what they can contain, so it won’t bring in things like blog names, descriptions, links, link categories, and other such things. It is being made available as a WordPress eXtended RSS file, which you can import into your empty WordPress install through the Import page under Tools in nearly any version of WordPress. I created and tested this in 3.5.1 originally, and the latest version works up through version 4.1.1, though it may (and likely will) work in other versions. If you try it with others, let me know if it does or does not work.

Walking: A Zombie Play in One Act

About the Play

Cover of Walking, a play in one act

Click to Purchase Walking

Walking is a play written to bring the suspense of the genre made famous by George Romero to the stage. It is a fast paced, suspenseful look at a small group of individuals being torn apart not just by the forces outside of the house, but their own fears inside. Can George’s survival instincts give him power over the group? Will Bill and Laura’s family bond be enough to carry them to a safe haven? Who will ultimately survive? Read More

Michael Fienen & the Moderately Priced Scotch

“Episode thirteen starts with a pop as Michael Fienen, Senior Developer at Aquent and CTO for nuCloud, cracks into a new bottle. In this episode, we talk a lot of tech, but we talk higher ed, too. Michael used to be the one-man web team, bringing us down a long winding road of figuring out how to prioritize tasks alongside putting out fires. We also talk about the importance of face-to-face interaction, especially across departments, and how being a “translator,” or at least having one in your office, is key to collaboration. We also do a lot of tech talk, discussing UX and UI, website design fads, and skeuomorphism, a new phrase you can use to make you sound smart.”
Listen to the full interview at http://highered.social/michael-fienen-the-moderately-priced-scotch/

Higher Ed Web Rant

So, last night I got off on a bit of a rant regarding the nature of web development in higher ed. There was no particular reason for it – well, that’s not totally true, I guess. Chris Coyier wrote a post on the process of CMS selection for higher ed. That’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart given the work I did at .eduGuru and our CMS research. I’d been thinking about it some recently, and was glad to see him take the topic on. But that got me rolling on higher ed web development, sort of swinging from one issue to another. What follows is a Storify of the rant that took place on Twitter. Some posts have been reorganized for narrative consistency.

Sit down for a bit and read, hopefully enjoy, and feel free to share your thoughts back either on Twitter or below in comments. It’ll take a bit, as there’s a lot here. I’ve tried to also include various replies and feedback that were also shared to build on the discussion (and will continue to do so as comments are made in the short term).

If, for any reason, folks feel motivated to use anything I’ve said in this Twitter stream elsewhere, consider all the content available under a Creative Commons. Share it, build on it, and do great work.

Creative Commons License This work by Michael Fienen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Based on a work at https://twitter.com/fienen.

^ Be sure to use the “Read Next Page” button to continue ^
View the story at Storify if you can’t see the ‘next page’ button, which happens sometimes apparently when the embed doesn’t size itself right.

(Photo Credit: CC by 2.0 ralphrepo)

Ello Goodbye

March is the one year anniversary of the “new” social network Ello. Ello was (is?) striving to be a social network free of advertising, that gives users more freedom and simplicity in sharing than existing options. Their goal seemed noble enough, and four months ago I signed up to give it a look. They had a motto and plan that there was an apparent demand for. People came. After the time passed, I thought it was worth taking some time to share my reactions and thoughts on the platform.

In case the title wasn’t obvious, the tl;dr opinion is that it has a long, long way to go. I’m going to try and temper my comments as much as I can to strictly UX related things, and not stuff that might be the result of my limited friend base. But some of that has to factor in out of necessity. I’ll try to be clear when that’s the case. It’s also worth noting that the owners still consider Ello a “beta” product. I don’t allow much leeway on this, since if you’re going to let people into a beta product, it better be good enough to wow them and keep them coming back. If it isn’t, it isn’t ready to beta. Read More

A Few Days with Google Inbox

About a month and a half ago, Google announced what is arguably the single biggest update to Gmail since its launch. This “update” is really something more like a re-imaging of the tool, creating an entirely new UI sitting on the data warehouse of your email. This new tool has been named Inbox, and as of this writing, is still currently an invite-only tool. A couple weeks ago, a friend was kind enough to pass on an invite to me so that I could try out the platform myself. Since I sold my soul to Google long ago, I was happy to spend some time trying out their latest endeavor.

After redeeming my invite code, I committed to giving myself two days with only Inbox – no Gmail – before I’d decide what I really thought of the tool. I did this, in part, because it was so different from what I was used to, I wanted to at least try to work through the “different is always bad” feeling that comes with this sort of change. It also kept me from using Gmail as a crutch along the way. I should also mention that a lot of emphasis, so far, is being placed on the line that this is not a Gmail replacement, but rather an alternative management tool. The fact that Inbox is heavily showcasing the power and potential of Material Design (if you aren’t familiar with MD at this point, and you’re a web developer, I highly suggest you take some time learning about it) is also no accident on Google’s part. This is meant to sell developers and designers on the guidelines. So… yeah. Read More