7 Free Tools for Creating Multimedia Websites

Digital Typewriter Illustration

We all like free. Love it even.

And we value saving time much more, especially when building multimedia experiences. So here are a seven free tools that I’ve found indispensable:

  1. Kuler: Adobe’s color selection tool makes experimenting and picking colors for projects fun and easy.
  2. Firebug: Inspect and edit HTML in real time. Perfect for experimenting.
  3. W3 Schools: A site packed with great web development tutorials. Learning CSS was much easier with these at my disposal.
  4. Kirupa: I just recently discovered this site, chock full of resources for all things Flash.
  5. Twitter Lists: I am a big fan of Twitter Lists. Follow these two I made if you want insights from creative people and interactive media professionals.
  6. Smashing Magazine: The thing I enjoy most about Smashing Mag is that it always leads me to new and exciting things on the web.
  7. My Delicious: Want more links and resources from me. Check out my Delicious profile.

Image by Vierdrie.

Code and Design

You like interactive media.

Are you left brained or right brained?

If you’re right brained, you’re creative and will most likely make a good designer.

If you’re left brained, you’re analytical and will most likely make a great programmer.

But what if you could do both tasks in the world of interactive media?

There’s good reasons to, according to a post at Web Designer Depot.

I’ll add one more to the list: It’s fun to do both!

Does Google Help or Hurt Traditional Media?

Illustration with person "shhh-ing" and the words: Creativity in progress

Few tech companies roll off the tongue as easy as Google these days.

The two giant has earned their place in tech lore, thanks to visionary leaders, simple, but useful products and bold moves, among other factors. But does this behemoth of a company help or hurt traditional media?

No News Here

I suppose newspaper executives would argue yes – in a big way. After all, Google News has aggregated much of their content, and as they might say, stolen potential revenue.

Google executives have countered that search helps enhance newspaper content, and that the company has tried to help newspapers, but hasn’t found the perfect solution just yet.

Book publishers and authors have battled Google over its Books portal in the past, and that fight continues today – centered on eBooks. Much of the fight, like the battle with newspapers, has revolved around copyright issues.

The movie and television industry have also faced Google head on over the content it aggregates for search. To that end, the search giant has yanked movie and television shows off its video portal, YouTube.

And that plays into Google’s quest to better monetize YouTube, with the addition of movie rentals earlier this year. However, will that be enough to quiet down the movie studios?

No.

Always About Money

Because this isn’t about just copyright and content. It’s about money. Google has grown more and more since it went public in 2004.

After all, Google isn’t just a tech company – it’s in the advertising business. That’s how traditional media has always made its money. So there lies the conflict.

And it’s a good conflict.

Google has helped traditional media more than it has harmed it.

In the book, Googled by Ken Auletta, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says that many of the company’s ideas may never see the light of day if they always went through proper channels before innovating. For example, asking newspaper publishers if it’s OK that Google aggregate their content.

But the Real Currency Is?

Such is the price of innovation on the web history’s fastest developing medium of information.

Google will continue to push back on traditional media, effecting its content, the way it tells stories through news, movies, books and more and the way it makes money. That’s a good thing.

Google operates with one currency in mind: information. It has the information of millions of web users via searches, emails, chats and much more.

The products come free, but the cost comes forth in information.

That information leads to products that are more personal and choice-heavy.

Yes, consumers need to be wary of how their information is being used. And traditional media needs to be aware of just how much more personal a user’s experience is with Google products.

A balance here could guide users to a continued improved experience and direct old media to something it has only reacted to, instead of created: innovation.

Image by marganz.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about Google and the media issues surrounding the company.

How to Use Social Media to Tell Your Story

Avatars

The term social media has found its way into the buzzword dictionary of late.

It seems everyone is talking about it.

Google has even gotten into the game with its new Buzz, an add-on to Gmail.

There are dozens of posts and blogs dedicated to social media out there, so I hesitate to launch into too much of a how-to here. Mashable is one of favorite blogs on the topic.

But if you’re looking to tell your story, so to speak, through social media – here are three tips to make it easy. And guess what, these three tips tie closely into the first part of this series:

Your story must connect with its audience

That means knowing the users, visitors and customers you’re after. Look to similar sites and personalities in social media for tips and guidance. Listen before you start pushing out your story.

Good stories connect because of tension. People follow it because they want to know what happens next. So keep them craving surprise, but make sure that surprise isn’t completely unexpected.

Try contests. Mark Luckie of 10,000 Words is doing this on Twitter all week, giving away copies of his new book.

Hold weekly question and answer sessions. Allow your followers to have some control over your story. Maybe they select the next new product color?

These events offer expectations, but can yield something new. Be creative.

Create a character (or voice)

The Chicago Tribune created an online persona for its social media accounts, Colonel Tribune. You can too. Or simply engage in a creative way that is you being yourself or your company capturing its essence.

If your company values creativity, make sure that principle gets reflected in your social media accounts. Pictureframes.com, a company that caters to artists, photographers and creators of all kinds, has done this well. Their Twitter account and Facebook feed is full of great resources and thought-provoking posts. (Disclosure: I worked for them prior to going to grad school.)

Offer takeaways

No one likes to get to the end of a story and feel empty. Sure, you may not be able to do this in 140 characters, but make sure the content you’re linking to and/or posting has value. Your customers and followers will desert you if you fail in this regard.

Often, this translates into not just talking about yourself or what you’re selling. We are only interesting when point to why other people, places and things hold our interest.

So you see, social media represents just another way humankind does what we do best – tell stories.

Image courtesy of sxc.hu.

This post is the second part in a two-part series on social media and storytelling. Part one covered three things social media and storytelling have in common.

What You Can Learn About Web Design and Storytelling from eBay

Every website tells a story.

EBay Home Page image

Even online auction sites. Take eBay, one of the original online auction sites, and perhaps the most popular. It engages users in several different ways to draw them into the site and tell story behind the products available there.

It does this in six major ways:

  1. Multiple forms of navigation: eBay has multiple ways for users of its site to dive into the content. Categories, the Buy or Sell landing pages, Daily Deals, Stores and more. This choice of navigation is imperative. No user is alike, so when building complex Web sites, one must cater to all those in the potential audience. In eBay’s case, that’s anyone willing to buy something online.
  2. Clean, crisp headlines: “Free shipping on top picks” can certainly capture one’s attention, especially since free shipping promotions generally attract a lot of potential customers. However, they wouldn’t notice without the simple, clear copy and the color change that helps it stand out.
  3. Photos: Let’s face it. We are a visual society. Crisp copy is great, but no one will ever look at it without some striking images. If you’re a customer, looking to buy something on eBay, browsing that Free Shipping module becomes an exercise in bouncing from photo to photo, not word to word. If you see a photo that interests you, you then connect the dots via the copy.
  4. Call to Action: One sees three major calls to action on the page: Shop Now, Register and Sign In. One could argue four, since the ad for the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes has such a dark background that it stands out against the white background on the rest of the site. Without these, customers may never interact with a site.
  5. Featured Content: And speaking of the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes ad, that’s featured content. They’re attempting to drive people to that particular product, and it works well, as mentioned, because of the color.
  6. Neighborhoods: Let’s say you jump into the site via the traditional route of clicking one of the categories on the far left. I clicked video games. Once there, you can click into Neighborhoods on the right of the page. I explored the Video Games neighborhood. Here’s where eBay is most interactive, especially for those who never intend to buy a product. These communities have conversations, product information and reviews. It’s a growing, ever-changing resource that can engage and attract traffic daily.

Ebay’s Neighborhoods hold the most power in terms of interactive features. Tons of content lives there, much of it not created by eBay staff, which is great from a business standpoint.

What’s the story here?

We sell anything to everyone.

Not very inspiring. That’s a dilemma for any retail site with a wide customer base.

I wanted to see if anyone could do it better.

Etsy does.

The site isn’t a traditional auction site, instead simply offering things for sale. However, Etsy has many similarities to eBay, including a major one: it empowers users to sell their products.

With a quick glance of the site its better for a few reasons:

  • The design is cleaner and more pleasing. The photos are more varied in composition, size and color. The colors are bold, but muted.
  • Its featured content relies on unique illustrations for images (something no doubt important and endearing to its audience).
  • It has a chance for customers to vote (interact) on something at the top of the page.
  • It has a featured sellers story, to help engage customers with story.
  • Plus, it has all those things that eBay does.

The story here? We’re like you, and we happen to sell cool, unique stuff we bet you’ll like.

Granted, each site caters to different needs and customers, but if they sold exactly the same products – which site would you buy from?

The story is clear.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management and Economics about the interactivity of online auction sites.

Do People Really Care About Journalism’s Struggles?

Are they really seeing what has happened?

“In a big news year, most media continued to see audiences shrink.”

This according to The State of the News Media 2009 report by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Nothing new there.

Googly Eyes image

Wait. That can’t be right.

Think about that statement. In 2009, the media covered some of the biggest stories in recent times. These include the near second coming of The Great Depression, two American-led wars overseas and the election of the first black president in history.

What gives? People should be flocking the news. Their world has changed, is changing and continues to morph into something completely different and new.

Do people really care about journalism’s struggles?

Nope. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t or don’t want to care.

But why don’t they?

There are three major reasons:

1. The structure of the media. Media critic and scholar Robert McChesney states in his book, The Political Economy of Media, three major reasons for a lack of debate over media structure. One of them is the fact that corporate media have successfully promoted the idea that the status quo is the “only rational media structure for a democratic and freedom-loving society. This holds true to some extent. People may think that with huge corporations controlling media organizations, there’s no chance for change.

2. People like free. Much of the debate about journalism centers on monetary issues. Yes, the industry has shed countless jobs, but according to a recent study by the Inland Press Association, some newspapers have increased their operating profit over the last five years.

According to an article about the report:

Outgoing Inland Executive Director Ray Carlsen said the report compares the gains and losses at daily papers across the country. “It’s encouraging to note that newspaper profitability can still achieve a double-digit percentage of gross revenue,” Carlsen said. “It means that newspapers are still a good business when compared to the results of other industries.”

Many newspapers have seen huge declines in profit, but continue to see profits of 12 percent to 15 percent. Perhaps free news isn’t that bad? People like free, so if the news industry starts charging for everything, the prevailing attitude among people seems to be that the content can be found somewhere for free.

3. The choice for news grows everyday. People no longer need to rely on broadcast news or their major metro daily newspaper for news. They have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, independent Web sites and each other. Anyone can create content today, so the top-down function of old media has become extinct.

How do we make them care?

  • Provide unique content that isn’t watered down or found anywhere else. Make sure it tells a story.
  • Give that content context. Why is it important to the audience? What does it mean?
  • Segment the content into digestible bits that hit home for different members of the audience.
  • Use multiple creative ways to distribute the content. Print. Online. Social media. Mobile media. Email lists. Employ them all.
  • Engage in conversation with the audience. They matter more than anything else.
  • When in doubt: The bottom line matters. The story matters more. What the audience thinks matters even more.

Image by Ayla87.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.

Can Multimedia Save Journalism?

Multimedia buttons on a computer

In the late 1990s, when the Internet started catching on, many believed that traditional media, like print and broadcast media would make a transition to the online world.

However, that has yet to fully happen. Newspapers continue to struggle with layoffs and closings. Media leaders have tried and failed at monetizing the news in several different ways.

Despite this, multimedia content has grown on news sites. More publishers, editors and news directors have started hiring web-related positions. Even if we could flip a switch, and make the transition to predominantly online news content, could more multimedia stories save journalism?

Yes. Multimedia is part of the answer.

But only part of it.

The other two factors are money and varied approaches to both the content and the monetization of it.

Segmenting the Content

Robert McChesney, a well-known media critic and scholar whose book I’m reading in one of my graduate classes, asserts that corporations have far too much influence over the media. The hunger for money, he says, effects journalism negatively.

The players haven’t changed in the online world.

The same companies that own newspaper and television stations own many of the most-visited sites. If one of these online companies lacks a foothold in traditional media, it still trends toward being huge.

The need for money, no matter whether a organization is non-profit or for-profit will never go away. News needs funding too.

So how can multimedia attract funds?

Segmented content.

Multimedia lends itself to short bursts of stories, whether it is a photo gallery, video clip, podcast, interactive map or a text article. These pieces can make for perfect bonus content, in addition to certain levels of free content.

The CBS news show 60 Minutes has leaned toward this approach, according to one of its senior producers. Producing quality content will attract viewers and visitors, and may lead them to want to pay for certain additional or premium content.

The next question becomes how to monetize that content.

Monetizing the Multimedia

When I worked for a community newspaper in Florida, I rarely heard from readers who said they read the paper, front to back. When they called to complain or offer praise, it was typically about one section they were passionate about.

This is why I believe segmenting content, and pricing it by the piece and by section might work. However, I also believe that trying different solutions and being nimble about it will work best.

For example, the New York Times will try a metered approach in the future, giving away some free content while charging for some after a certain level of views. This approach might gain traction, thanks to its flexibility and use of free content.

Whether a news organization is for-profit or non-profit, it will always need some type of revenue stream, and multiple revenue streams work even better. Multimedia can drive the transition to more online news and more revenue streams, making news orgs less dependent on solely advertising.

Image by Maxray06.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about journalism’s recent struggles.

3 Ways Social Media and Storytelling are Alike

Stop tweeting and facebooking for a minute, will you? Yes, it’s popular and the love of many.

So much so that comedian Conan O’Brien predicts that in the year 3000, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook will merge to create the ultimate time-wasting website called YouTwitFace. See the video above.

O’Brien may be joking, but social media is no joke.

According to statistics compiled by online marketer and “Socialnomics” author Erik Qualman, social media has overtaken porn as the number one activity on the web. Watch a visualization of the statistics here. Many other experts predict that the Internet of future will be much less cumbersome, becoming very portable, allowing people to communicate even easier than they do now.

So how does storytelling and social media relate?

  1. They both have the ultimate goal of connecting to an audience. Without establishing that connection, each becomes irrelevant and pointless.
  2. Both offer the opportunity to follow characters. Admit it, we stick with stories or visit social media profiles because we enjoy seeing what the characters there do next.
  3. Each have the power to inform, educate and encourage debate. All information sources have this in common.

Stay tuned for the next post in this two-part series: How to Use Social Media to Tell Your Story.

This post is the first part in a two-part series on social media and storytelling. Part two will cover how businesses and individuals can use social media to tell their story.

Why New Media Favors the Underdog

Pug laying on ground

Underdogs stories litter the new media landscape.

The creation of Napster turned into one of the web’s biggest game-changers ever, if not certainly for the 90s.

Shawn Fanning created the music-sharing site in June 1999 while in college and the site operated in its original form for more than two years. The music industry succeeded in shutting down the site in July 2001 through a court order, but not before Napster changed the music industry.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in Jobs’ bedroom. Mark Zuckerburg and friends began Facebook while in college at Harvard, initially limiting the site’s members to just college students.

Ideas and Companies Start Small

Technology is full of underdog stories that started somewhere small. People love that type of story. It encourages the kind of thinking that says anyone can succeed with the right idea.

It’s why the idea itself, and the story behind it, is my favorite idea in new media.

Think about it. Without the story behind companies like Apple, Facebook, and even Google, these organizations would have never reached the success they enjoy today.

Dreams in life rely on the power of newfound notoriety and change. We all want to be somebody. Change something. We want to come out of nowhere and build something worth recognizing. It’s why we all identify and crave success stories like these.

That Idea is Fueled by Belief and Story

Sure, these tech giants found supporters and funding, but they all started with just a simple inkling of an idea. However, the founders believed in those ideas and started building the story that goes with them.

All companies start as underdogs. Surviving as a new organization in the technology world will always prove difficult thanks to the industry’s ever-changing landscape and blistering pace.

But that against all odds backdrop will always appeal to news media, tech insiders, the general public and anyone wanting to hit on the next big idea.

Image by Andrea016.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management and Economics about great ideas in the business of new media.

Why Every Story Needs a Revision

Failure and success crossroads sign

We all create stories that need help. A lot of help. Major revision help.

You might call it failing. But sometimes, if we’re smart about it, we can turn failure into success. Or use it as a teaching tool and momentum builder for the future.

Completing a rough first draft of a story, whether it’s a storyboard for a promo video, copy for a retail site or a multimedia journalism piece, is not the end of the world.

Why?

Because with a good story, it’s all about creativity and change.

Embrace the Word Revise

No matter what kind of a piece you’re working on, you must go through revisions.

When someone gives you feedback says they want to see this or that different in your story – don’t see it as a failure. See it as an opportunity.

A Chance to Grow

Each revision represents a chance for you to make yourself better. If you have to take a piece through six revisions, then you have a prime opportunity take the skills you’re using to the next level.

Yes, clients and the people you trust to give you feedback may not always give you the type of criticism you want, but that happens to us all. Many people see this criticism as failure.

Don’t.

No matter how many storyboards, photo edits, text edits, design layouts, etc. you go through, expect and accept revisions.

Once you do, your final story will become much more satisfying and failure will cease to exist. And in the end, not only will your story be better, but you will too.

Image by Cobrasoft.