Archive for February, 2007
On his latest podcast, Jason Calacanis takes Wikipedia to task for not being user-friendly. Basically, Calacanis is saying that the wiki markup language and user interface for Wikipedia is too complicated and geeky and prevents regular people from contributing to the Wikipedia community. Calacanis says that Wikipedia is purposely trying to throttle the number of people who can get involved in the site.
I won’t dive into that debate. Regardless, what Calacanis highlights is continuing need for web site owners to keep it simple if they want people to participate.
That means making the technology dead easy and intutive to use. If there’s much of a learning curve for people coming to your site, you’ve got a problem.
You might be amazed at the things that throw off people. On this video page, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen who try to click the “Click image to play” text. That surprised me at first, because I’ve personally been trained by YouTube to always click on the video still itself (yes, I need to eat my own dogfood and change that). But I see now that people are also accumstomed to clicking on text and making something happen. Yahoo took a beating from users last year when it “upgraded” its TV page to include all sorts of AJAX-y goodness, forgetting that people are partial to what’s easy and familiar.
It’s trite, but if your mom or brother or non-techy neighbor has trouble getting around your site, you need to rethink what you’re doing.
(Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. I’m not giving legal advice, just pointing readers to helpful resources.)
One of my more frustrating responsibilites as a newspaper web editor is trying to understand and apply copyright law and fair use as it pertains to digital media. We frequently produce podcasts where someone wants to include copyrighted material, typically a snippet of a song or audio from a movie or TV show.
Unforutnately, copyright law is vague. Staying legal and producing the content we want is a balancing act. Fortunately, there are several good resources available for those needing to go down this path. One of the better ones is the Podcasting Legal Guide, published last year by Creative Commons. Written by attorney Colette Vogele and Mia Garlick of Creative Commons, it provides a reader-friendly overview of copyright law and podcasting and real-life examples of good and bad copyright behavior. Stanford University Libraries also has a wealth of information on Fair Use.
Apple is now making it super easy for anyone to make desktop widgets, another tool that content-makers should exploit to push their content out to consumers. For those who don’t know, widgets are mini applications that run on desktops on the latest version of the Mac operating system. Visit the Apple dashboard page to see what I mean. Anyone can make a widget. But until now, you needed at least rudimentary coding skills.
Now comes Dashcode, which turns widget-making into a point-and-click, drag-and-drop affair. The software is still in beta - it’ll come out with the next version of the Apple OS. But you can play with it now if you sign up for Apple’s free developer connection.
I cobbled together a widget last night for our Inside Silicon Valley podcast. The widget periodically grabs the RSS feed of the podcast and lets you play the podcasts on your desktop. The learning curve here is not steep. Dashcode provides templates and walks you through the step-by-step process of widget creation. If you’re familiar with the widget concept, you can learn Dashcode in 10 minutes and have your first widget ready to go in another 10 minutes.
Here’s a download link to the alpha version of the podcast widget I created (you need Tiger to use it). It needs to be cleaned up and branded better. But it’s fully functional.
So what’s the value of this for newspapers or other media companies? True, the percentage of Mac users coming to your site is small, and the percentage who use widgets is even smaller. But you need to offer your content to people on their terms, not yours. If people want to read, listen to or watch your content off the web on their computer desktops or elsewhere, you’ve got to let them do that. And in this case, the up-front investment is almost nothing. Plus, widgets are a great way to push reminders out to users that you have new content. I created a widget for SilicionBeat when I was blogging there, and the last time I checked, it had several hundred downloads.
(Note: If you plan to make your own podcast widget, there’s a bug in the Dashcode podcast template that doesn’t allow widgets to read Feedburner podcast feeds. The workaround is to comment out line 23 of Podcast.js. Thanks to Christian Wagner of the Apple developer team for tracking down that bug for me and others.)
We posted our first reporter video today, using our new El Cheapo point-and-shoot videocamera. We didn’t really tell Leslie, our morning breaking news reporter, what to do with the camera when we gave it to her. I spent 60 seconds showing her how to use it and told her to come back with clips in the 30-60 second range. We had the video up on the site about 10 minutes after the online team got its hands on the camera.
For now, the video lives on this ad-hoc video page that we’ve thrown up for miscellaneous video. But after our site’s redesign launches in less than a month, we’ll be able to emded video clips (albeit smaller) directly into article pages.
You can debate the quality of the video itself. It’s not as good as I’d like. We just imported the video (.avi) into Quicktime, and back out as Flash. We probably should have used On2 for compression instead of Sorenson, though I’m not sure how much of a difference it would have made. Regardless, you can’t beat the speed and ease with which we were able to get and post the video.
The next step is to create a workflow for reporters and editors so that anyone can capture video off the camera and upload it to our server. And along the way, we’ll continue to evaluate whether this is the right video tool for reporters.