Blog Comments

Below I’ve provided links to all the comments I’ve left on blogs during the semester.

Blogs from Class

Other Blogs Across the Internet

Designing for the Look, Not the Functionality

I’m going to need an explanation. I know nothing about web design, but I know about communication and functionality. I don’t really care what looks “cool” or “hip.” I just want to be able to see and obtain information quickly and seamlessly.

Recently there’s been a trend sweeping the Internet, and I’m not a fan. Websites are redesigning to make everything more “Web 2.0” or something. At least, I think this is what this change is all about. You all know what design I’m talking about. The huge, clustered squares look. The Windows 8 look. The look that is just a bunch of oversized pictures with an endless, linear scroll. Everything is huge so people using their iPads or other touchscreen-based tablets can click on things with ease. The linear scroll is there because tablets lack the more precise input methods for more efficient and non-linear browsing, I guess. Oh, and this look allows you to easily connect everything to Facebook and Twitter accounts. And the “most popular/shared” articles trend their way to the top of the site instead of being posted in a meaningful, chronological (or reverse chronological) order. This design famously found its way to Slate a few months back, it’s taken off at The Dissolve, and yesterday it infested my favorite, check-multiple-times-every-day website, The A.V. Club.

I hate it. It makes any site an illogical, non-intuitive, disorienting mess for anyone who doesn’t already know the product inside and out. It’s easy to adjust to and get the stylish, new look. It’s not easy to get the feel. Research indicates that users read and enjoy lists, yet it seems that graphic designers are moving away from drop-down lists, navigation bars, and even the idea of a main menu. I don’t understand.

The market for tablets is quickly growing, but they’re far from the majority. Why force a single design tailored to a single platform on to a multitude of diverse platforms? Isn’t a good design one that is able to make things flexible and friendly to all users, regardless of their platform? And, oddly enough, some of these sites don’t even work well on my iPad. Am I missing something here?

Does anyone enjoy this design? Does it “work” for anyone?

SPOILER ALERT: Social Media is Killing the Element of Surprise

I have little to complain about when it comes to great, free social media. I don’t mind the occasional selfie that shows up on my Instagram feed. I can ignore the promoted tweets on Twitter. The spelling errors that plague the status updates of my Facebook friends no longer bother me. But there’s one thing I feel that social media has completely destroyed that I will not let slide: the element of surprise.

When I watch a film, tune in to a television show, or read a book, I don’t want any outside force or commentary influencing my opinion of the work. I like to be stunned, shocked, and startled as the original creator intended consumers to be. Social media makes this practically impossible, especially when popular entertainment is involved. In 2013 if someone reads something, sees a movie, or watches a highly-anticipated season finale, there’s a pretty good chance he/she is going to post about it on Facebook or tweet about it incessantly. And there’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to mark these posts with “SPOILERS” or some equivalent. And even if they do, it takes a lot of power to just keep scrolling. Tweets are 140 characters or less. I could accidentally read something of that length and then some movie or book or whatever would be ruined. Why do people feel the need to do this? Can they not watch Breaking Bad or Star Trek Into Darkness without posting the film’s plot points to the Internet?

Star Wars Episode VII is not being released in theaters until December 18, 2015 (That’s 764 days away, but who’s counting?), and I’m already getting blasted with spoilers I’m trying to avoid. Speculation on plot, characters, and even subtitles has been circulating for weeks, and this likely will not stop until the release day in 2015. Just today, casting auditions for the film were held in Chicago. Little to no information concerning anything important about the film was revealed at the auditions, but that does not stop the public from taking guesses, digging deep into the Internet for more information, and posting their theories.

This irritation is not going to draw me away from Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere. My complaints and pleas are valid (I believe), but it’s unrealistic to think they will ever stop. So I’ll deal, and hopefully those I friend or follow will mark tweets appropriately with “SPOILER ALERT.” Still, I yearn for the days when entertainment was always an event, something that could blow the audience members away and leave them speechless. And I long for a time when the worst thing that could happen was a random jerk ruining a film as he exited the theater.

Getting Started with Wikipedia

Anyone who knows me knows I really like Wikipedia. I read it, I edit it, I research it, and I promote it. But I’m in a minority of just over 125,000. I can understand why others are hesitant to join the community of Wikipedians (or any other new online community, really).  There’s always the “newbie” period everyone fears. There are norms that must be realized and adopted. There are technological barriers, as well. How does one use wiki markup language? Well, in an effort to encourage others to join Wikipedia, I have devised a list of ten steps that will facilitate the process.

1. Explore the site (and not just the articles). 

If you’re going to use the site, you have to get used to it. Find an article, and become familiar with what it offers. Don’t simply look at the article’s content; browse the links, the talk pages, edit histories, references, and the side bar. There’s so much on the site, and clicking from link to link is what it’s all about. Get a good understanding of what you’ll be working with.

 2. Create an account.

While it’s possible to edit pages and create content without an account, having one provides more opportunities to develop the community. At the top of every page, there’s a simple “Create account” link. Follow the short steps and you’ll be able to track all your edits and develop relationships with other Wikipedians with ease.

 3. Create your userpage.

One’s userpage is one of the few spaces on Wikipedia that allows for complete creativity. This is your profile. Describe yourself, showcase your interests, and explain your contributions or planned contributions to the project. Establish a personality.

4. Learn the five “pillars” of Wikipedia.

There are hundreds of rules, policies, and norms on Wikipedia. It’s impossible to learn them all by sitting down and reading through everything. Instead, you’ll learn them as you edit and collaborate with others. Soon, it will all be second nature. But to start, you should know the core principles of the project, why it exists, and how it works. One quick way to do this is by knowing the five “pillars” of Wikipedia. Read more about them here

5. Learn the language.

If you can learn intermediate HTML (you definitely can), you can learn wiki markup language. While the project recently dropped its WYSIWYG text editor, the tried-and-true classic editor is manageable and intuitive. There is plenty to learn, but the basic commands can be gleaned from this handy cheatsheet

6. Start with links and formatting.

It’s time to edit. To get started, focus on linking and formatting. Links are a breeze to add, and they hold the site together. The connection of so many pages is how Wikipedia has become so easy to use and popular in the eyes of millions of users. Similarly, formatting pages to have proper (and aesthetically pleasing) structures and outlines is important. Users like pages that are easy to read and navigate, and contributing in this manner is a great way to get started. If you need a space to test out the wikicode, you can use your “sandbox” page. This is simply a blank canvas that the public cannot see. Experiment and try new things here.

7. Move on to citations.

Everyone knows about the issues of reliability on Wikipedia. Help to address this concern by providing citations to articles. Believe it or not, much of the information provided on Wikipedia is already accurate; it simply isn’t cited properly. Protip to those in academia: If you’ve done your own research and have work published, cite yourself! It helps build your reputation and gets more eyeballs on your contributions to the world.

8. Upload a picture.

Wikipedia has a ton of text, and that’s great. To complement this text, add a photograph or picture. Wikipedia has a lot of information posted about what images can be added to the project; copyrights are taken very seriously. So upload something you’ve created to get started. In doing this, you actually upload your work to the Wikimedia Commons page. This will allow anyone to access the photo and add it to pages where it applies. This page will walk users through the process and ensure that the image is scaled down properly and saved to the database in the correct format.

9. Explore categories.

To help users navigate and organize information, there is a complex system of categorization that the site uses. However, this system is easy to learn, and if you’re going to become a full-blown Wikipedian, it is critical to master. A particular page can belong to a number of categories or categories within other categories. It’s all about layering and hierarchies. For example, the page on Star Wars belongs to the following categories: Elstree Studios films, 1977 introductions, Science fiction films by series, Adventure films by series, Fantasy films by series, and Disney franchises. You can create any category you feel will help the project, but thousands and thousands already exist. These are easily searchable, and if you see something is missing, you can start something new. Like many other elements of the project, this process has conventions that go along with it to ensure consistency.

10. Create a new page!

Well, that’s it. After experimenting with these critical aspects of Wikipedia on other pages that already have lots of code and structure to build on, start from scratch. Take something that is unique to you and create a page. It doesn’t need to be a complete and thorough look at something; other Wikipedians will fill in the gaps in no time. Create an outline and structure that makes sense to those who will later contribute.

As the title of this post suggests, you have now “started” using Wikipedia. There’s still stuff to learn and the project is constantly evolving. Jumping in and studying the foundation is the most challenging part. Like everything else in life, practice and usage will help more than any tutorial could manage to do. So what are you waiting for? Start contributing!

Should EVERYONE be on Twitter?

There are a lot of reasons why businesses and organizations hop on Twitter. It’s a fantastic platform for advertising products, brands, or services. It allows the user to craft a face and personality for their business. It provides a means to communicate quickly, effectively and directly with customers and consumers. Twitter is great and many opportunities and advantages come with using it. But should every organization or company establish a presence in the Twittersphere? I don’t think so.

Last week, a manager at Caterpillar’s Large Engine Center approached me and asked about two words he wanted to know more about, “Twitter” and “hashtag.” After I explained, he pondered the possibility of CAT’s LEC starting a Twitter account. I presented him with the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, but I ultimately suggested he not go the social media route.

 Caterpillar already has a corporate presence on Twitter. Additionally, we have a page just for CAT Financial and one for our lift truck business. We also have dealerships (Foley CAT, Carter Machinery, and Warren CAT, to name just three) who maintain a Twitter page. Does the facility that produces the company’s three biggest engines need a place to tweet and promote? As the business exists right now, I don’t see why it would.

To explain, I’ve come up with three reasons an organization or business should NOT follow the masses to Twitter. 

1. You don’t understand Twitter and don’t have the time to learn it.

Twitter is far from complex, but there is a definite culture and way of doing things. At times, formatting a tweet to convey a message with just 140 characters can be an art form. There are hashtags, RTs, MTs, trending topics, and more to learn about. If you or your company does not have a specific individual or team set aside to maintain a social media presence, there’s no point in doing a lackluster attempt. You won’t gain followers and the goals and messages will be inconsistent.

2. You don’t have a market to engage.

If you’re a business that builds and sells multi-million dollar engines to large, faceless corporations, who are you hoping to engage and interact with on Twitter? Who is reading your tweets? Let’s say a medium-sized business owner utilizes these engines and follows you on Twitter. What information are they looking to obtain from this follow? Most of the business conducted between these two entities likely concerns very technical (and sometimes secret/protected) data that cannot simply be thrown up on a public forum. What can you offer them?

3. You have nothing to say.

Unless you’re Jay-Z, a Twitter cannot be maintained by only a few tweets every 4 months or so. You have to produce content to keep your followers interested. And this content has to have value, so there should be a clear strategy to what you tweet. Nonsensical tweets won’t cut it. Maintaining an account that simply retweets others won’t cut it. Tweets that are linked to content produced on another platform (like Facebook) won’t cut it either. What novel information can you provide your followers?

Looking at the Warren CAT Twitter I mentioned above, my points are clearly illustrated. Warren is a large dealership (very similar to a car dealership) that sells and services engines and large earth-moving equipment. Warren has had their Twitter account since June, and has only drawn in 21 followers (with 4 of these being other CAT dealers). Their last tweet reads, “Starting the CAT Culture young. How cute is this costume?! What are you going to be for Halloween?” A link is provided. Who is the target of this tweet? Has it been determined that users of Warren’s CAT equipment would find this tweet valuable? The other 141 tweets from this account are also lacking in purpose or usefulness to what I perceive to be their consumers and customers. 

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe companies, brands, and organizations should create a Twitter account just because that’s what everyone else is doing. Maybe there’s some value in just having a presence, even if it is weak. I picked on a few Twitter accounts related to my line of work, but there are many, many more organizations doing the very same thing with social media. What do you think? Should everyone be on Twitter?

Tracking Distractions in the Workplace

I recently read a report entitled “The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity” for one of my graduate lectures. This work states that distractions consume 28% of a knowledge worker’s day; this ultimately costs U.S. businesses $588 billion each year. These figures are from 2005, and it is safe to assume that both numbers have increased in the last eight years. This work and similar pieces really opened my eyes to just how frequently I jump from one task to another every day, hour, and minute. While I’m indubitably getting work done, I wanted to see just how much time I was wasting. So, I decided to track a normal, 8-hour work day from start to finish, noting any time my attention or work shifted. I simply opened this WordPress document and made notes throughout the day, which you can read below. Not surprisingly, the results were quite dire.

Let me provide a bit of background before I present the log. I work for Caterpillar Inc.’s large engine facility. We make enormous, room-sized engines for mining trucks and other earth-moving vehicles. In the past year, layoffs have been plentiful, so my particular office is quite barren. In the office in which I work, it is just me (I’m in a global finance/PR-type role), an engineer, and my boss. The desks are huge but, again, most are empty now. The main distractors on my desk include my PC, my work laptop, usually my personal MacBook (because 2 computers isn’t enough!), my iPhone, and my work phone. Alright, here we go!

6:47 AM – I arrive at work and get to my PC. I set up my MacBook, put down my iPhone. I start going through emails.

6:54 AM – My boss, who usually arrives at 7 AM, has called to say she will be late, as she’s not feeling well. She provides me with a list of her clients that I need to meet with or email.

7:02 AM – I go back to emails. There are lots, as we work on the global side of things. Many of our dealers and clients in Asia and Europe are not available during our regular work days.

7:15 AM – One of my own clients from France has sent me flight information for today’s visit, so that I can arrange a limo. Unfortunately, he does not speak English and accidentally arranged for a flight to Lafayette, Louisiana instead of Lafayette, Indiana. I consider going home for the day.

7:32 AM – I respond to a text from my girlfriend.

7:51 AM – All the “important” emails have been addressed. Today Lafayette is hosting a conference, and the attendees will be arriving soon, so I start to pack up so I can join the group and give a short presentation.

8:11 AM – We have discovered that half the conference attendees will be arriving an hour late, as a manager from another building here sent an email with the wrong agenda.

8:22 AM – Back at my desk to put together some finance reports for my clients (and those my boss threw my way) coming today. I’ll rejoin the conference group at 9 AM, when the rest of the group shows up.

8:24: AM – My boss calls to tell me she’ll be even later. Excellent.

8:45 AM – Frantic phone call from Utah about a conference that isn’t happening until June 2014.

8:55 AM – I head back to present to the conference attendees.

9:37 AM – Back at my desk. I check Twitter and watch this awesome video. Whoops.

9:55 AM – Finish prepping for a stream of dealers and customers.

10:01 AM – I check social media on my phone while waiting on clients.

10:05 AM – Meeting with clients from Singapore.

10:17 AM – Boss texts asking what the chef is making today. I have no idea.

10:45 AM – Meeting with dealer from Michigan and his customers from India.

10:55 AM – Indian customers are looking for an engineering report that no one ever requests. Looks like I”ll be heading to the factory part of the facility, hopping in a golf cart, and searching for the senior engineer who probably has this data.

11:06 AM – My boss texts me, informing me that she has arrived.

11:16 AM – Back in the conference room with the desired report. Success!

11:30 AM – I’m about to start a presentation on figures that are not likely to yield a positive reaction.

11:56 AM – Dealer and customers seem surprisingly ambivalent. I’ll search the web for the rest of this meeting.

12:12 PM – Lunch. The chef made beef brisket today, so I’m excited about this.

12:45 PM – I missed two calls during lunch. I spend time returning them.

1:03 PM – Respond to a few new emails. I don’t get through even half of them, but I need to work on another report and look at some new data on engine performance reviews.

1:25 PM – Check phone and Twitter. I respond to texts from friends/family.

1:43 PM – I finish up my reports for the day.

1:44 PM – A call informs me that my last client meeting of the day has been canceled and rescheduled to a date 2 weeks out.

1:46 PM – I get back to emails and issuing LOIs for customers and foreign dealers.

1:55 PM – Boss calls me into her office to fix a problem in Microsoft Excel. She doesn’t understand Office.

2:01 PM – I return to my desk and hit the emails again.

2:10 PM – I help some random person with the conference call system.

2:11 PM – I can finally return to the emails. Hopefully these will be finished up by the week’s end.

2:20 PM – Just caught myself browsing The Onion. Way to go, me.

2:22 PM – I return to checking emails. After a few send, I get an error message that will not let me proceed in Lotus Notes.

2:28 PM – I finally get someone from IT on the phone. They remote access my computer and haven’t seen this problem before. I browse my phone while they attempt to fix my email.

2:45 PM – I decide I should just access my email through the web client, but it too is buggy. Things are moving slow.

3:15 PM – I meet with my boss and we plot out some big meetings, deliverables, and calls for next week. Busy week ahead.

3:34 PM – Heading home for the day. I hope the technical problems are addressed by Monday. TGIF.

It is likely that I missed or forgot to log a few distractions. Still, I have noted nearly 40 distractions or shifts in tasks throughout the day! Obviously, I’m not being as efficient as I could be. Now, I just need to figure out how to cut down this number. There are clear changes that can be made; I can stop the bored web browsing, texting, and social media checking. But is there more I can do? I’m sure my office’s engineer and my boss would notice similar patterns in their days. How can we move forward, keep out goals on track, and waste less time as a group? These questions will definitely be top-of-mind from now on. I’m looking forward to becoming more efficacious. Maybe I’ll even save the company a few bucks.