Visual storytelling through animated gifs and Vine

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).

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.

Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.

Over on Twit­ter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):

seo - Google SearchTo 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.

Bike To Work Day 2012

Insanely, I decided to par­tic­i­pate on Bike To Work Day despite liv­ing 32 miles from Philadel­phia. It took 3:20 hours but was fun and not too scary. The night before I looked up Google Dri­ving Direc­tions for bicy­cles and when I found it gave me an inter­est­ing route I decided to fol­low it. Much of the ride was eigh­teenth cen­tury stage­coach roads and a road fol­low­ing along­side the old Read­ing Rail­road Seashore Line.

In album Bike to Work Day 2012 (19 photos)

At home, wait­ing for enough day­light to set out.

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Facebook consulting explained

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.

Bradley J Winkler LLC

Bradley Winkler LLC Home RemodelingIn 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​.bradley​win​kler​.com/

Mike’s Precision Carpentry

Mike's Precision CarpentryMichael 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​.mike​s​pre​ci​sion​car​pen​try​.com