Webstock: Miranda Mulligan, Your Survival is Designed

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Miranda Mulligan (hey, I know her!) helped take the Boston Globe through a responsive redesign, and now is Director at the Knight Media Lab at Northwestern. She’s the first in five generations of women to not make clothing for a living. Clothing matters; what you wear is an indicator of what you value.

“Journalism needs to be a more thoughtful dresser.” Some large news organizations have very good UX designers, and many more have very good editorial designers. But news design has stagnated, and the news industry needs more design-thinkers.

When Miranda talks with publishers, they’re fascinated by responsive web design. They don’t have many designers in their organization though, and design comes at the end of the project workflow.

“Technologists are winning at media innovation.” Twitter is reinventing breaking news situations. The Evening Edition gives you a summary of what’s happening at the end of every day. Narrative Science turns big data into readable stories. Why aren’t media companies inventing these new products?

#AANDigital: WordPress in the Newsroom

Since I’ve been involved in the news industry, I’ve been a huge proponent of open source software. In particular, this selling point: open source makes for much easier cross-institution collaboration. Open source software provides a legal framework for companies to pool development resources, and build mutually-beneficial products. However, as I learned the hard way, news organizations need to get to the point where they’re comfortable managing their own open source software before any collaboration can ever happen. We’ve made some strides, but we still have a ways to go.

Today, I was honored to speak about WordPress in the newsroom to the AAN Digital Conference. The alt-weeklies industry is in a situation very similar to what I saw in college media a few years back: one proprietary CMS dominates, editorial workflow is MS Word to InDesign to web, and most of the focus is on print. It was a bit of déjà vu. Fortunately, everyone is also super enthusiastic about the web — no curmudgeons in the audience.

The WordPress-powered sites I highlighted: Quartz, Metro, CBS New York, Rolling Stones, Online News Association, and DigBoston. Quartz is near and dear to my heart because I think they’re really at the forefront of innovation with an app-like product and responsive design. I can’t wait until they roll out their commenting system.

Features and plugins I pointed out include: distraction-free writing, drag and drop media uploader, Edit Flow and WP Frontend Uploader. If you’re looking for more publishing-related plugins, we’re slowly profiling our recommendations in the VIP Plugins Directory.

One parting note: this conference was the first time I’ve heard “dry humping” as a recommended way to show your appreciation to the organizers. Keep on rockin’, alt-weeklies.

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Many news sites display related content at the end of an article that’s often based on textual analysis or visitor traffic. Articles often assume a baseline of knowledge on a story, regardless of whether the visitor knows anything about the topic or not.

It would be neat if you could include a quiz widget within the article. The reader could take the quiz which would test their knowledge and then suggest content based on their responses. The news organization would collect useful demographic data to refine their editorial planning.

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Fortunately, whether or not Google makes a commenting widget isn’t that big a deal on its own. Maybe they will or maybe they won’t, and maybe it’ll fail again or maybe it won’t. But the key lesson to take away here is that we know a few things are wrong with the trade press in the technology world:

  • In tech financial coverage, there is a focus on valuation, deals and funding instead of markets, costs, profits, losses, revenues and sustainability.
  • In tech executive coverage, there is a focus on personalities and drama instead of capabilities and execution.
  • In tech product coverage, there is a focus on features and announcements instead of evaluating whether a product is meaningful and worthwhile.
  • Technology trade press doesn’t treat our industry as a business, so much as a “scene”; If our industry had magazines, we’d have a lot of People but no Variety, a Rolling Stone, but no Billboard.

There are many more examples of the flaws, but these are obvious ones. What we may not know, though is that there’s another flaw:

  • For all but the biggest tech stories, any individual article likely lacks enough information to make a decision about the topic of that article.

Anil Dash — Why you can’t trust tech press can’t teach you about the tech industry

#techrakingcir: The Future of the CMS

Today, I’m down at Google in Mountain View at Techraking, a gathering of technologists and investigative journalists. It’s been super inspiring because of the fresh to me perspectives — I’d love to help Portland media outlets with projects like those I’ve heard about.

At lunch, I learnt I was to lead a small group breakout on “the future of the CMS.” To keep the discussion going, we started out by brainstorming the things we liked and want to improve our respective software, and then did a roundtable to identify our six month personal goals.

Some things people like about their CMS:

  • Drupal done well is easy to use; there are a ton of modules
  • Affordability, open source is cheap
  • Community to work with
  • Many different homepage templates to choose from depending on the stories of the day

What people would like to improve (lots of conversation, as expected):

  • Data portability
  • More headless; produce output other than HTML
  • Scalability, faster when many people are working in the admin
  • Less steps for completing common, simple tasks
  • Integration with story budgeting, calendaring; API for story flow
  • Magical WYSIWYG editor; auto-save that works; track changes
  • Support structured data / semantic markup
  • Customization for story layout
  • Small pieces loosely joined; better integration with other services

Given the short notice, I thought the breakout session went quite well. About twenty people showed up. In terms of what worked:

  • Small group discussion; knew enough backgrounds to call out different people to talk
  • Noted salient points on the whiteboard as a way of plotting direction
  • I enjoyed the “what are you going to work on in the next six months” takeaways at the end

Next time, we should:

  • Figure out the location ahead of time so we don’t waste time finding it
  • Have people introduce themselves if they haven’t spoken yet
  • Every fifteen minutes, have something for everyone to participate in so people don’t check out

#nyc12: Making the Switch to WordPress

Yesterday morning, I gave the last of three CMA NYC sessions I led this week:

Considering making the switch to WordPress? Join Daniel Bachhuber, code wrangler for Automattic’s WordPress.com VIP, to learn how to make open source work for your publication. We’ll discuss whether WordPress is the right fit for you, how to assess other options, and what steps you need to take if you’d like to make the switch.

Most of the people attending had been to at least one of my other sessions, so it was a quicker review of the slides and then more of a general Q&A session. A lot of the questions revolved around the different types of hosting, where you should go for support, etc.

#nyc12: Hacking WordPress in the Newsroom

This morning, I gave the second of three CMA NYC sessions I’m leading this week:

You publish with WordPress, are comfortable with editing theme templates and making basic CSS changes, and you’re ready to take your site to the next level. Join Daniel Bachhuber, code wranger for Automattic’s WordPress.com VIP, to learn what you need to know. We’ll discuss topics like version control, performance and optimization, debugging, and other development best practices. This session will be geared towards the tech-savvy with a practical knowledge of WordPress.

It ended up being a little less ambitious. We started out with (the importance of) setting up a local environment, reviewed what makes a plugin, and introduced a few project ideas. Between a dozen and two dozen students attended; for almost all, the information was completely new.

The most important note on this subject: there are lots of jobs available.

Also, come hit us up with WordPress questions at our Happiness Bar!

Session notes are below the slides.

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Elizabeth Eisenstein, our leading Gutenberg scholar, says that after the press, people no longer needed to use rhyme as a tool to memorize recipes and other such information. Instead, we now relied on text printed on paper. I have no doubt that curmudgeons at the time lamented lost skills. Text became our new collective memory. Sound familiar? Google is simply an even more effective cultural memory machine. I think it has already made us a more fact-based; when in doubt about a fact, we no longer have to trudge to the library but can expect to find the answer in seconds.

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The real need for education in the economy will be re-education. As industries go through disruption and jobs are lost forever, people will need to be retrained for new roles. Our present educational structure is not built for that but in that I see great entrepreneurial opportunity.

Jeff Jarvis — Rewired youth?