National University

J620 Online Publishing: Conclusion & Resolutions

I am so thankful this class was so hands-on about online publishing! I think I have similar struggles that I hear many writers and bloggers complain about: keeping up with consistency, having enough story ideas, always being able to pull inspiration even when you have none, and the overwhelming feeling of a great story idea that needs to be organized well and has many moving pieces. It was refreshing to feel that I was addressing those complaints and learning how to work through them in Online Publishing.

What was great about this past month was just being required to make the blog and write the posts, just as consistently as a successful blog should. I hope to keep up with posting regularly and resolve some bugs I have in the layout. I also want to find a way to integrate my main blog with this personal one without muddling a lot of different kinds of posts together.

It’s also been invaluable to be working with a cohort so diverse in every aspect of writing style and subject matter, as sometimes you don’t even know what you’re missing until you have colleagues to sound off of.

From Toni’s blog, I was reminded of web conventions, because her menu icon in the top left was easy to recognize, was located in the first place my eyes went to, and it helped me navigate easier.

Renee’s website really highlights the importance of content: She has organized links and lots of different types of content, like her professional work, links to her Instagram, a reel, and a personal blog. There are different ways to engage with her, and her use of anchor text is simple and useful. I also LOVE her domain name! Summa Our TV is a pun on her last name, so it’s personal but memorable.

My favorite thing about Tanya’s blog was how straightforward and clean it was. It’s interesting to learn something new and suddenly have the terms to explain what you like or want to do with a project.I say that because going to Tanya’s page made me instantly think of Krug’s underlying principle of just making things easy for your readers. I like that there isn’t too much scroll from the landing page to some kind of text that pushes you in the right direction, and even though I love succulents, highlights for me that I prefer to have less of a banner.

Delores’ name for her blog, Mellow Peppermint is so cute! I like it because it gives the idea of her blog being a package or product a more complete feel. I also appreciated that her posts were laid out differently; I’m still playing with how I want posts to be displayed and seeing something different like her story tiles reminded me that conventions don’t have to feel standard or boring.

Jennifer’s blog Dakota FM  also has that clean uncluttered feeling that Tanya’s did. The layering of the photos gives dimension to the page, while also creating defined spaces for her posts.

My classmates have given me a lot to learn from! I’m excited that this is just the beginning with WordPress and publishing online in general, because learning in practice feels intuitive through their programs. I remember writing html code for Myspace 15 years ago, and having to manually lay out objects on pages by measurement, so the simplicity in modern technology and how you can personalize it is honestly mind boggling. As a tech lover, I appreciate the usability of the editing and management tools that still translate into professional and aesthetically pleasing sites. I’m looking forward to the learning curve here, and being able to use these skills in the future.

book reviews

Linked, Ch. 10-16

Having finished the second half of this book, I think my impression of it from the first half holds true throughout: while thoroughly interesting and endlessly useful, I may have come in just expecting a more formulaic or dense structure to the information.

In “Awakening Internet” Albert-Laszlo Barabasi lays out the foundation of the idea he’ll explain the nature and consequences of for the rest of the book: the scale-free network and its structure. By explaining the humble beginnings of the internet and its development as a distributed structure, Barabasi gives readers a foundational understanding of how our most important network works.

One of my favorite quotes, although from later in the book, I think beautifully explains why this structure and its characteristics are so monumental: “There is no single node whose removal could break the web. A scale-free network is a web without a spider.”

Actually, I think this quote sums up the underlying message Barabasi is trying to explain throughout. What makes the internet a strong network is its structure: the power is decentralized, no one server holds all the keys, and the ever expanding reach of the network only makes its potential more fluid and palpable. The possible growth and preferential attachment that helps perpetuate that network is fundamental to networks in general though.

Another eloquent example was the explanation of the corporate tree: for all information flowing back up to the top, or the CEO, there has to be a lot of efficient filtration and categorization, so there isn’t and information overload when all the branches reach back to that one base.

I also really appreciated the explanation of corporate boards and how people in those circles often work on more than one board. Connecting separate companies that may benefit from each other is so crucial to connecting small worlds of nodes to other small worlds of nodes, because, as other point made in chapter 11 illustrated, hubs with a lot of connections actually move much more traffic than an even distribution among nodes. So, these tree structures that center power at a base, and these select hubs, or few people with many connections, they’re the real driving force and deciding factor in many of our networks.

Some examples Barabasi used included a study of the spread of the antibiotic Tetracycline that found, basically, that a small number of nodes have a majority of the connections. Meaning, in the four Illinois cities included, a small group of the doctors surveyed were the common connection of basically all surveyed.
An easier way for me to visualize what this means is follower ratios on Twitter. It’s actually more beneficial to have social media influencers who can act as guideposts for the internet, because as Barabasi explains, from any one page on the internet only 24% of the rest of the pages can be reached directly. To me this means that you can’t really ever predict where you’ll end up on the internet because you only know the site you’re currently on, and where you might go next. If everyone actually followed everyone, the hierarchy of information would be lost. Much like the corporate tree that leads up to the CEO, it’s better to have “viral” people and posts that create a type of landing zone to decide where you go next.

All in all I found the information in this book invaluable, and I’ve already recommended it to my friend, a software engineer who already understands the technical side of the ideas but would love the explanations and possibilities opened up by them. It’s remarkable to think about the potential of a network like the internet, and as all systems have, what other networks it have the potential to perpetuate.


Linked, Ch 1-9

Before I started reading Albert Laszlo-Barabasi’s book on networks, I read some reviews that commented both on its usefulness and its repetition of the same key ideas. Reviews like this one also mention, albeit more emphatically than I would, the excessive anecdotes prefacing every major point his book makes.

While this review and my reading only cover the first half of the text, I see the validity in that criticism. However, the more I read, the more I appreciated the examples and, for lack of a better word, parables, that Barabasi used to illustrate his points. I do think that more examples and less introductions could have made the text more useful, but I also think the magnitude of the ideas explained in this book carry enough merit to justify a full length book, so I guess I also see why it was given the length that it was.  To summarize the important ideas I took away from the book: the 80/20 rule, connectors, power law, the six degrees of separation, strong and weak ties, the scale free model, and the idea of ever increasing networks also increasing the magnitude of a problem on that network, are all concepts that are invaluable to how we understand information and how it spreads on a network.

At times, though, these lessons are lost in turns of phrase and convoluted, long illustrations, when their value for growing a network can independently carry the whole of the text. While I really valued the information I found in the chapters, I just felt that some space could have been left to illustrate different ways to use the information given, rather than repreatedly explaining why that information was so valuable.

In that sense, I think the book was pitched and executed more as a book on theory, when it seems it would have functioned better if it had initially been treated as a practical, hands on guide to networks and growing them, since so much of its lessons carry that benefit anyway.

Overall, this is the kind of text you appreciate finding because you know its information is fundamentally important to understanding different aspects of many other trades. The great thing about learning about networks as a human being, is that you can use them, build them, and benefit from them in basically any aspect of your life. Your social and professional circles, and your audience as a content creator (more people fall under this title than you think) all can grow under a real implementation of these ideas. I’m purposely not going to explain them too much, because the book is worth reading for yourself, but I’ll briefly talk about the ideas that stuck out to me.

The 80/20 rule : 80 percent being reaped by or made from 20 percent of those making. Barabasi explains how many different models this ratio applies to, but also makes sure to highlight that the systems that this applies to actually stand out as an exception, not as the rule. So while this ratio is good to keep in mind when it comes to certain examples like productivity and wealth distribution, it doesn’t always apply to every scenario you look at.

I also appreciated the example given in chapter 9, about an ever increasing reach in a network also being a liability, illustrated by the 1996 west coast power failures. I think it’s really important to remember that while our interconnectivity is so important, and I think fundamental to what makes us human, that it also leaves us more prone to misinformation, since the bad, or false or malicious, can travel just as effectively and legitimately as the good, or credible or true. I think that would be most easily illustrated by looking at the recent revelations made by social giants like Tumblr and Facebook, in their own roles in the 2016 election interference.

I found this read endlessly useful. I look forward to the second half, and knowing to expect lengthy examples and anecdotes makes it easier to filter down to the useful advice, which there is plenty of.


Aim for the Heart, Ch. 13: Tell the Story Online

This week’s reading was a chapter out of a great resource that I’ve actually used in a previous class for this program. Like Krug, Tompkins is direct and gives simple advice with simple reasoning: every lesson is themed to maximize your content’s appeal to a reader. This chapter focused mainly on the advantage of interaction that online news and storytelling has over broadcast and print media. Over several pages of bullets highlighting the difference between those passive forms of consumption, the message I walked away with was that while interactive stories are more complex, the engagement your readers have with your story and in a sense, with you, proves to pay off in reader loyalty and in turn even more interaction. My favorite quote to sum up the chapter, from p. 174, is, “Interaction promotes a deeper understanding of the story.” Not only do you have a more nuanced arena to display your knowledge and news gathering, but you can now choose what parts of your stories you want to depict differently, and still create a cohesive story through different media. Like Tompkins says, the flexibility and control of online media compared to broadcast media gives users more access to their news sources and to more information about the story that grabs their attention.

For instance, a common idea is that people don’t want to read stories that are too long. While this may be understandable, there are definitely ways to connect many different smaller works of research and stories into a larger theme or beat. For online journalism though, you can just use this model to continue to bring your readers back, to build updates and context. This would basically lay like a breaking story, then with more time a more investigative piece could be done about the consequences of or events leading up to that story. From there, profiles of the main involved people can be written, all linked to in relevant updates that keep traffic steady to the story as a whole. The Atlantic is my favorite for longform journalism, and the steady pacing, tone of the writing, and plethora of links to related stories throughout are the main reasons why. It keeps you immersed without being overwhelming, even when the story is a a few thousand words long. This story is a great example.

Tompkins’ practical advice for using video and leveraging your digital assets, I found really useful a a beginner in consistent online publishing. While a lot of advice may feel like common sense in hindsight, that’s usually just an indicator that it was good advice. So while I catch myself thinking, “Yeah, makes sense,” while I read about closeup shots and medium shots being better for online video because so many people watch on small devices nowadays, it’s not something you actually cognate until someone outlines that it does make a difference. Then you remember that some videos you watch on your phone feel “busy” or “crowded” and you can connect that that’s probably because their shots weren’t appropriate either for their story or the screen size the intended audience is seeing it on.

Meaningful engagement was interesting to read about because I’d assume you want any and all engagement, but it was validating to read about not all stories being left open to comment sections, because I agree that not all stories benefit from having them, or the audience doesn’t benefit in every case of a story having comments open. Using data to know what engagement is most effective, and making sure to use your analytics to understand when and what to post, again sounds like common sense, but mapping out guidelines like that for your organization can really make or break your viewership. In this same section, (p.183) there was advice given about being consistent and updating often during breaking news, special events, or elections. While I also as a consumer sample more during these occasions, I hadn’t thought about it as a journalist as such an advantageous opportunity to engage a new audience.

All in all, I benefited immensely from this chapter’s practical advice. I especially loved the simple bullet list of “Skills you need to get hired or keep your job” (p 190) and the social media guidelines from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Even more on this second read, I’m appreciating the perspective and experience Tompkins shares.


Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug

In probably the most straightforward and useful textbook I’ve been assigned, Steve Krug gives simple techniques for creating websites that enhance user experience without complicated way finding or overly elaborate marketing schemes.

By sticking to the idea in the title, Krug hones in on a simplistic principle that can be applied almost anywhere: if your product needs explaining, make sure it’s the simplest explanation it can be. There were certain themes I thought I understood and had the most obvious answer to, that I realized could be tweaked to be incredibly more effective, considering how small the changes needed to be. For example, the necessity of a clear page title and tag line: I’ve been making the mistake of thinking that that information is implied and would be redundant. In chapters seven and eight, verbatim and with clear diagrams to support, Krug explains why orientation as the first constant is such an important foundation of a clear, effective website.

The metaphor of the internet being a place that you’ve been dropped into and need to navigate blindly really helped me see holes in what I considered good web design. The “You are here” indicators are my favorite and the first thing I look for on any map, and that shouldn’t be any different when navigating the web. Again, the metaphors presented were explained all the way through.

The information on usability was useful because chapters nine and ten lay out a practical plan to run usability tests and guidelines to qualify usability.

I also appreciated the succinct structure; the chapters were short, the diagrams useful, and the flow of information stayed interesting.

One criticism I’d have would be the footnotes. They were interesting and often funny, but just often enough, there’d actually be useful and relevant information, not just puns or anecdotes. That made me hesitate to skip them, and while it’s always good to read the footnotes, they just seemed to take up a pig portion of the text and labor of the book, which makes me think it was a style choice. I do think it was funny and the sprinkles of real information were probably intended to keep you reading the footnotes, as they did for me, but I don’t think it’s a reliable place to put real information that’s part of your intended lesson, especially when your tone is already informal and the majority of the footnotes aren’t serious.

So it’s not a problem at all, it’s just a second comment on the style choices of the book, but chapter 4 is basically two pages long. While it was slightly jarring to turn the page into another chapter, I understand the format seemed to be a priority to the author, and maybe the information just really needed to be divided that way.

All in all, this might have been one of the easiest reads I’ve had, as a textbook. Krug promised in the introduction that the book could be read on a single airplane ride, (although that also confused me because it’s an incredibly ambiguous claim; where did you depart from and where are you flying? What if it’s only an hour long?) and it did go by surprisingly quickly, while feeling so useful throughout.

Especially for websites based in news, articles, or blogs, I think this book is an essential read.