Five Online Tools You Should Use


Today is a big day. In 12 short hours, I’ll have walked across the stage at Elon University and received my master’s degree in interactive media with 35 talented and creative people.

I’ve learned an incredible amount in the program. Just take a look at my multimedia portfolio. I couldn’t create any of that media-rich web content before I entered the program.

I’ve also tried out hundreds of online tools over the past 10 months of my graduate program. Here are my five favorite tools that are easy to use and give you the most traction in the interactive media world.

  1. Delicious: This social bookmarking site isn’t a new one, but it has proved indispensable. I use it every day, whether glancing at it to find an old bookmark, making a new one or checking out a friend’s favorite sites.
  2. Google Reader: Again, the concept here isn’t new, but it this RSS reader has allowed me to put my hands on more new ideas in the past 10 months than 1,000 years in the classroom. I mean, hey, they’re pretty cool. Even if you don’t use Google Reader, find one and give it a try.
  3. Posterous: Half-blogging tool, half micro-blogging tool, this site is my new favorite. I just started a new learning journal there, and am looking to start a collaborative blog with Elon iMedia classmate Steve Earley using Posterous in the future.The site is innovative, easy to use and fun. I wish it outputted valid XHTML though.
  4. Web Developer Add-on for Firefox (and Firebug): This should really be number one. I’ve used it more than anything as I’ve created websites and other web-related projects. Quick, go find out how these tools help make writing web pages, validating them and more easier and faster.
  5. People: There’s one link for this, and it’s all my classmates in the inaugural interactive media master’s program at Elon University. I’ve learned more from these people than any other tool. Good interactive media follows best practices in design and technical aspects, while pushing the edges of what’s possible. Groundbreaking interactive media does that, and connects with people. And you can’t connect with people if you can’t learn from them.

Image by Jomirano.

10 Awesome Resources for Learning Web Standards

Computer code

If you’re a new web designer, multimedia storyteller or interactive media professional, here’s a short list of resources that will help you learn more about web standards.

The Web Standards Group defines web standards as “(HTML, XHTML, XML, CSS, XSLT etc.) and best practices (accessible sites using valid and semantically correct code).” Web standards are important when building websites because they can make your site function better, last longer and be accessible by many people across multiple platforms.

Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

Authored by the Godfather of web standards, Jeffrey Zeldman, this book should be considered one of the more important guideposts in learning and embracing web standards.

Opera Web Standards Curriculum

Who doesn’t like free? Opera, the company who created one of the world’s popular web browsers, offers up a ton of free, online material relating to web standards.

The Web Standards Project

This grassroots organization has worked with browser makers since 1998 to make the web more accessible for all.

W3 Schools

A perfect spot to get free tutorials and examples on how to build and maintain web standard compliant websites.


Founded by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, this organization defines the web’s standards.

A List Apart

An online magazine, dedicated to the exploration of the design and development of websites, with a focus on standards and best practices.

W3C Markup Validation Service

This online tool can help you validate the HTML code you write for the websites. There is also a CSS Validator.

Web Standards Group

A group of web designers and developers interested in web standards.

Web Standards Checklist

An old list, first published in 2004, but it’s still a great starting point for things to address when designing and building a site.

How to Grok Web Standards

An article that explains how graphic designers need to approach thinking about designing for the web.

Image by Flaivoloka.

How Should You Go About Managing Creative People?

Ducks in a Row

Managing people almost always comes with new and unique challenges every day.

Working with creative people, and managing them, can sometimes prove even tougher. Why? Well, because they’re usually wildly inventive, fiercely intelligent and passionate about their ideas. That translates into beautiful, yet at times difficult, work days for employees and managers at creative-driven businesses.

In thinking about how to best manage creative storytellers and artistic people in general, I first dove into the blogosphere. It’s a great place to discover other’s personal experiences. I found one post that hit on excellent points, but stayed simple. It’s a set of management values I’d like to follow myself.

Manual Saez lists these five values that his company uses to help manage creative types: humility, candor, optimism, ambition and responsibility. His blog post about managing creative individuals goes on to define why they’re important to his specific company.

Manual Saez lists these five values that his company uses to help manage creative types: humility, candor, optimism, ambition and responsibility. His blog post about managing creative individuals goes on to define why they’re important to his specific company.

However, I’d like to to add to that list and define why I think each added ingredient has value.

Collaboration: Creatives typically want to protect their creations, and feel deeply passionate about them. It’s understandable, but the great majority of professional creative work comes out of small or large teams of innovative people. So the ability to embrace teamwork is essential to success in any creative field.

Respect: A lack of respect can develop into a potent poison for any organization. Without respect, employees refuse to follow leaders or buy into any sort of change and the new ideas behind it. Respect must be embraced, even if ideas are not.

Win-Win Strategy: This addition is inspired by a classmate of mine, Paul Wagner. You can connect with him on Twitter and his blog. He gave a great guest lecture in class today about the evolution of cooperation. His said that an effective way to solve problems and increase cooperation was to adopt solutions that create benefits for both parties involved. So if you’re working with a client or co-worker and disagree, try to foster a solution that’s mutually beneficial.

These eight guideposts can fuel a successful creative team any time, anywhere and on any project. They are the principles I plan on championing as I go forward in my professional career. Thanks to Manuel for the starting point and inspiration.

What else would you add or how would your strategy be different?

Image by Kipcurry.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management and Economics about about personal management styles.

How the FCC/Comcast Decision Could Hurt Storytelling

Neon Open Sign

Last week, a federal appeals court declared that the Federal Communications Commission lacked the authority to tell Comcast to not block certain uses of its Internet access services.

This strains the FCC’s plan to expand Internet access across the country, but it says it will push forward. We’ve seen the answer to the problem of wide-ranging Internet access and who will pay for it isn’t an easy one. It’s not just about access to high-speed Internet, but demand and economics.

As the New York Times article on the decision outlines, there’s positives and negatives to Internet service provider’s charging and not charging content creators for use of broadband cables. This would create “fast” and “slow” lanes on the Internet, and might limit certain types of content to users.

Only time will tell what will happen, but if ISPs start restricting access to content providers and begin charging them to distribute content, net neutrality will take a big hit. And so might storytelling.

  • Some users may not be able to afford access to high bandwidth type content like videos.
  • Media companies may have to pass the extra surcharge in Internet fees to the consumer, which wouldn’t be a good thing for ailing legacy media companies.
  • Smaller companies that provide new, innovative content may be strained with higher prices to distribute content, thus limiting creativity.

With so much at stake for storytelling, this is an issue for any multimedia storyteller to watch.

Image by Lockstockb.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about about network neutrality and the current debate surrounding it.

A Quick Search Engine Marketing Analysis: Back On My Feet

SEO Illustration

SEO has fast turned into one of the web’s buzz words.

It may be a word tossed around easily, but more and more businesses are taking it seriously today, especially non-profits who can leverage it to put more people in front of its story and cause.

If you run a small non-profit, paying attention to SEO can mean the difference between gaining donations and having empty coffers. I’ll take a look at one non-profit, Back On My Feet, and examine what they’ve done right and how they can improve in the search engine marketing arena. Hopefully, if you run a small business or non-profit, you can gather some knowledge from this quick case study.

Back On My Feet, as stated on the organization’s site, “promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.” I first learned of this great organization from a story about it on NBC.

What’s Done Right?

Search engine optimization and marketing should not focus on just things like meta tags, keywords and the like. So much of it is simply about doing the basic things and doing them well. Back On My Feet serves as a great example of this.

Here’s why:

  • A clean, clear and professional design. This organization has had its site designed by professionals – O3 – a web design firm located in Philadelphia. That translates – a site that’s likely to get linked to because it’s easy to navigate, fun to look at and conveys its message well. The site has a PageRank of five, which is solid.
  • Use of social media. From the footer section, it’s apparent that Back On My Feet uses different social media platforms to promote itself. This translates into links, a valuable commodity in the world of SEO.
  • A clear, uncomplicated title tag. Title tags, or what appears in the top of a browser, just above the web address, are important. It is one of the first things a search engine spiders see. The organization uses “Welcome to Back On My Feet | Home” This translates into good SEO because it has the organization’s name in there, which spiders will then see and put emphasis on.

What Can Be Improved?

However, Back On My Feet can improve in some areas as well. These include:

  • The site may be professionally designed, but its code has a few errors, according to W3C’s Code Validation Service. Perfecting code can be tricky. It’s something I’m still working on here on my site, but it’s vital because it means search engines can process your site faster and they won’t be tripped up by a mistake in your code.
  • The site makes solid use of the title tag, but fails to take advantage of other meta tags like description and keywords. The site uses the same string of words for all these tags. That means they miss a big chance when it comes to trying out keywords that might bring traffic to their site, like “running charity” or “homeless charity” or other similar terms. The title tag and description could be written with more power and usefulness, both for SEO and general description. How about something in the title tag like: Back On My Feet | Helping the Homeless through Running. And the description tag could read: Back on My Feet promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.
  • I first discovered this great organization through a news story. I’d love to see a news section, linking to recent articles or mentions. This might help circulate links about the organization.
  • Lastly, the organization actively uses social media and other web tools as a means of promotion and fun generation, but I’d like to see bigger social media icons on the home page. That might increase awareness of the platforms and encourage people to follow Back On My Feet.

This is by no means a perfect analysis, but it’s a quick start guide and points attention to areas other non-profits can focus on when creating a web presence. If you’re looking for more great information on SEO resources, I recommend these two sites:

  1. The Non-Profits Guide to Search Engine Marketing.
  2. Search Engine Optimization Guides by SEOMoz.

Image by Svilen001.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management about search engine marketing.

How Does an Engagement Editor Engage?

Networking illustration with figures connected by lines

Legacy media and other news organizations have begun to take social media more seriously, creating positions that focus on the medium.

However, few have set out to create a position as unique as the the Voice of San Diego.

Its new Engagement Editor, yet to be hired, has people talking. It’s part ombudsman, part new media guru.

Journalists Erik Gable and Steve Buttry wrote recent blog posts about the position and what it means. Mark Luckie over at 10,000 Words created a nice list of what journalists with similar and current positions do with social media.

In his blog post, Gable asked what you would add to his list.

Here’s what I would want to do that are similar to his ideas:

  • Manage the organization’s flagship social media accounts, reader comments and other reader-submitted content.
  • Monitor new technology and teach staff workshops on social media and other new tools that may improve engagement. Help staff determine the best tools to use for different projects.
  • Hold regular workshops for readers and community organizations to encourage new and continued reader-submitted material. Identify the potential regular and occasional correspondents for the Web site.
  • Serve as the point of contact for readers and be the steward for conversations about the and its stories.

And I’d also like to:

  • Organize and lead discussion forums and live online chats on the site about important events and stories. These could also take the form of a broadcast on UStream or similar site. Bring together community leaders to participate in these discussions in order to promote debate about topics.
  • Create a portal on the site that would help readers better follow the bigger, more complicated stories. Think of it like a giant blog with easily accessed backstory.
  • Establish a more social portal for comments and discussion, through a tool like Ning or BuddyPress.

Like Erik asks, what else would you add?

Image by Clix.

A Few More Predictions for the iPad

Green Apple

The blogosphere is lit up with talk of the iPad a day before it comes out.

Some believe it’s far from perfect while others anxiously await the iPad’s arrival. Only time will tell how well the iPad sells, how easily people can use it and how they use it.

Respect the User

Some four years ago, I bought a Palm Pilot. I had just landed my first job as a journalist and desperately wanted something to keep up with all my new contacts.

I think I used it four times. I ended up scribbling my contacts in my reporter’s notebook, and transferring them to a text document for easy electronic transporting.


It didn’t fit into my life. Palm failed in a way with its devices.

It was faster to just scribble the name when on location and in a rush. The text file proved easier to get to and navigate than my Palm device.

Is it just Hype?

I think the Apple iPad could suffer the same fate.

Here’s my thoughts on the iPad:

  • It could end up being a nice around-the-house kind of computer, perfect for checking email or browsing the web.
  • It could be too big for people to carry it with them everywhere.
  • As Cory Doctorow pointed out, Apple has made a killing on closed off devices and applications.
  • However, the iPad might fall short of expectations because it doesn’t embrace the free/open-source mentality that’s gathering steam on the web.
  • I don’t think it will save the news industry. The news is no longer a commodity. Anyone can distribute news these days, so journalists still have to figure out how to make the news they gather more valuable than most.

Final Word: No technology is perfect, so the iPad won’t be the be-all, end-all some may think. It will have its fans and detractors. I’ll give it chance, but would have to try one extensively before ever buying one.

Image by Leonardini.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the iPad and its release.

Three Awesome Examples of Interactive Media Stories

When it comes to creating interactive media experiences and websites, finding inspiration is paramount.

Personally, I’m working on several big projects as I approach graduation from my graduate program, so I’m scouring the web, searching for stuff that causes pause, makes me think and want to explore.

Here’s three examples I discovered recently and why they’ve inspired me.

100 Tweets by 9Elements

This site uses HTML5 and Javascript to display 100 tweets about HTML5 in a particle-like way. It has audio and plenty of animation, which make it pretty immersive and something you just want to click on.

To learn more about the project, check out the blog post on it.

In Retrospect: 40 Years Since the Race to the Moon

A Flash-based site created by the Associated Press to highlight the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. My favorite part here is the timeline. It’s created in a way that visually shows how much failure the space program had to endure to reach its goal. I also like the Apollo 11 animation because it shows how incredibly complex the craft was.

Autism: Breaking Down the Barriers – A Weighty Diagnosis

This multimedia project by the Roanoke Times dives into the subject of children and autism. Focused on a family with twins, one who has autism and one that doesn’t, the project raises issues about autism, and why it’s difficult to deal with.

The video does an excellent job of setting up the story and drawing the viewer in. As soon as I watched it I wanted to explore the rest of the media. The reporters combine powerful quotes, words and images extremely well.

I found these links by browsing Favorite Website Awards and Interactive Narratives.

Why the iPad could Cripple the Internet and Newspapers

Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying he believes in old media companies, and that democracy depends on a free and professional press.

That has put some hope in newspaper executives. After all, Jobs is the guy who reinvented the revenue model for the music industry.

And with the iPad, it’s clear Jobs and company at Apple are up to something.

Hi, we’re closed

However, if the iPad takes off, and other competitors step forward, how many different platforms will newspapers, magazines and book publishers have to create content for? What the iPad and other tools like it could create is a system of closed systems.

Scholar Jonanthan Zittrain speaks to this in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. The iPad is an example of a tethered device. “It’s the kind of device that requires special programming knowledge and approval of the device’s creator (Apple).

He and I have nothing against things like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Tivo. They are great and have led to some exciting things.

However, they could also lead to a more controlled computing system and less innovation, as he argues.

Balance, please

What’s the answer? Balance – something Zittrain also calls for in his book and in an interview with Charlie Rose.

The Internet has existed as a system that anyone can jump into and play with, so to speak. If you want to create a website for your business, you can do that without knowing everything about how the Internet or computers work.

An Internet dominated by iPad-like devices could wreck that. Developers would have to have more specialized programming knowledge, approval from device creators and other restrictions.

So what should newspapers, magazines and other online storytellers do?

  • Explore all possibilities, but maintain some distance and freedom. Don’t rely on just one solution for distributing content.
  • Embrace both closed systems, like the iPad and open source platforms, like WordPress.
  • Advocate for standards when it comes to devices like the iPad, iPhone and Kindle.

There’s no perfect solution here, but doing these three things will help maintain that balance that Zittrain so smartly calls for as a solution.

What else could newspaper, magazine and book publishers do to help their cause here?

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the future of the Internet.

The Ultimate Blogging Resource List

You can never have enough resources when it comes to blogging.

I put this list together about three weeks ago for a presentation on vs. Blogger. The meat of the content was guided by this great post, comparing and Blogger.

However, I wanted to give people something more to guide their blogging adventures. That ignited this list of varied resources that I turn to every day when blogging.

Some contain advice, some lead to tools and some help you produce content. Become aquatinted with them, use them and your blogging will improve in no time.

Blog Tips and Tricks

Sites to Help You Blog Better