NPR’s Planet Money recently ran an article on glass recycling, How A Used Bottle Becomes A New Bottle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image format file that web designers leaned on a lot back in the days of low bandwidth. It’s especially good for designs with a few discreet colors, such as corporate logos or simple cartoons. It also supports a kind of primitive animation that was completely overused in the late 90s to give webpages flying unicorns and spinning globes.
Animated gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tumblr. They are often derived from funny scenes in movies and come with humorous captions. The Planet Money piece uses them for storytelling: text is illustrated by six gifs showing different parts of the recycling process. The movement helps tell the story – indeed most of the shots would be visually uninteresting if they were static.
The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video service from Twitter which I’ve used a lot for silly kid antics. They can also tell a simple story (they’re particularly well suited to repetitive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).
In my work with Friends Journal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video interviews with off-site authors using Google Hangouts, which essentially just records the video conversation. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the quality depends a lot on the equipment on the other end. If the bandwidth is low or the webcam poor quality, it will show, and there are few options for post-production editing. But honestly, this is why I use Hangouts: a short web-only interview won’t turn into a weeklong project.
Producing high-quality video requires controlling all of the equipment, shooting ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work condensing and editing it down to a story. And after all this it’s possible you’ll end up with something that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actually watch videos all the way through to the end, drifting away to other internet distractions in the first few minutes.
I like the combination of the simple short video clips (whether Vine or animated gif) wedded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight story about a summer afternoon project. Yesterday, I tried again, shooting a short animated gif of Tibetan monks visiting a local meetinghouse. I don’t think it really worked. They’re constructing a sand mandala grain-by-grain. The small movements of their funnel sticks as sand drops is so small that a regular static photo would suffice. But I’ll keep experimenting with the form.
Over on Twitter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):
To translate, SEO is “search engine optimization,” the often-huckersterish art of tricking Google to display your website higher than your competitors in search results. “Usability” is the catch-all term for making your website easy to navigate and inviting to visitors. Companies with deep pockets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solution to ranking high with search engines is to provide visitors with good reasons to visit your site. What if we applied these principles to our churches and meetinghouses and swapped the terms?
Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse /
Hospitality keeps people returning.
A lot of Quaker meetinghouses have pretty good “natural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the middle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few historical markers of notable Quakers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meetings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is covered. Although we do get the occasional “aren’t you all Amish?” comments, we have a much wider reputation that our numbers would necessarily warrant. We rank pretty high.
But what are the lessons of hospitality we could work on? Do we provide places where spiritual seekers can both grow personally and engage in the important questions of the faith in the modern world? Are we invitational, bringing people into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?
In my freelance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of statistical reports and redesigned some underperforming pages, but then turned my attention to the client’s content. It was in this realm that my greatest quantifiable successes occurred. At the heart of the content work was asking how could the site could more fully engage with first-time visitors. The “usability considerations” on the Wikipedia page on usability could be easily adapted as queries:
Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ general background? What is the users’ context for working? What must be left to the machine? Can users easily accomplish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much training do users need? What documentation or other supporting materials are available to help the user?
I’d love to see Friends consider this more. FGC’s “New Meetings Toolbox” has a section on welcoming newcomers. But I’d love to hear more stories about how we’re working on the “usability” of our spiritual communities.
Good for me as I have work to do!
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Over the last year or so I’ve been asked to do an increasing amount of Facebook consulting. Most weeks I get a couple of emails asking for help and asking how this sort of consulting works so I thought I’d explain my experience.
First off: Facebook is not all that hard. Putting a great-looking Facebook page up to support your group, cause or school doesn’t require any programming. But it can be confusing, partly because Facebook is always in-process. They keep adapting it and tweaking it. If you bought a book on Facebook campaigning a year ago, it would already be out of date.
My first job is to ask a few good questions about what you want to do on Facebook and then set up the beginnings of a site. I spend too much of my time already on Facebook but I also keep up with a lot of Facebook blogs and have recent copies of such wonderful tomes as “Facebook Marketing for Dummies.” In most cases my job is to recommend a Facebook strategy based on best practices and then to start up a Facebook Page for you. There are certain flourishes I can give, such as picking a good icon or making a customized tab for first-time visitors. But the real value of Facebook is clients sharing information directly with their audience so my most important work is getting you excited about doing it yourself. I’m really just a cheerleader for you.
I typically spend anywhere from two to eight hours helping a client put together a Facebook page. If it looks like a project on the small end of the scale, I just charge the expected amount upfront. I do keep track of my time: if we go over a little bit, I let it slide; if we still have a bit of a balance then I’m there for ongoing questions. Facebook consulting is not the core of my business but it can be a nice break from a big six-month development project and it’s helps with the cashflow. I’m also a naturally curious fellow so I like learning a little bit about the kinds of things.
In early December 2009, I got a call from a prospective client who wanted me to build a website for her husband’s home improvement business. The catch? She wanted it to be a surprise Christmas present! She started collecting pictures from his clients and I went to work with a simple but expandable WordPress site. Reports are that Brad was thrilled!
See it live: http://www.bradleywinkler.com/
Michael Oliveras is a long-time union carpenter making the entrepreneurial jump and starting his own business: Mike’s Precision Carpentry, serving the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware from his shop in Hammonton, NJ. He came to me looking for a webpage to advertise his new enterprise.
It’s a simple design, a typical small-business site of half-a-dozen pages. The color scheme matches his business cards for a bit of branding. Oliveras faced a problem typical for new businesses: a lack of good photos. The work he’s done for many years is not technically his own (per the employment contracts) so for now the pictures are a mix of the few jobs he has done on his own and a few stock images. I’m sure he’ll have a well-rounded portfolio before long and we’ll be able to fill out the site with his own work. In the meantimes, he added a couple of great pictures of him and his family on the “About Us” page to give it that personal touch.
See it live: www.mikesprecisioncarpentry.com