I have a deep, dark secret.

Posted by Jesse | Posted in Technology | Posted on 31-01-2008-05-2008

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DontTELLPLEASE please please do not tell anyone. Yeah, it’s probably not wise to tell a secret on this blog- but if I can’t trust you, gentle reader, whom can I trust?

Ok, here it is. I love errors.

Query append errors, SQL errors, web-server errors, you name it- I can’t get enough of them. Now, if I may, I will qualify this unhealthy love of errors.

I like errors WHEN:

  • I have time for them
  • They don’t cripple a mission critical application
  • I have the tools and resources to fix them

So basically that excludes about 99% of the errors “regular” IT folks have, right? I love the errors because many times it helps me “get back in touch” with my applications. How many times have you built something only to abandon it for months, and stop further development? Yeah, sure, it works. What about if you tweaked this process, added some reports and maybe some auto-feedback here…and now you have a complete set of upgrade plans. I love jumping into the guts of one of my systems or perhaps a new system and filling documentation holes(I smell a blog post…), or sometimes documenting for the first time. There’s something deeply satisfying to mapping out an entire application by hand and surveying the process only to immediately pinpoint the problem, AND ways to make your app better.

Know your role.

Posted by Jesse | Posted in Higher Education, Management, Technology, Usability, Web | Posted on 30-01-2008-05-2008

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funny-pictures-bird-cat-cage.jpgEver been in a meeting with a manager that is completely unqualified to make a critical decision about some piece of technology or strategy? Let’s say you have a website, and you are rolling out a new feature. Now you have been the model web developer; you’ve done case studies, use-ability testing, research, etc. You know what a user wants, and what they most definitely do not want.

Your manager has now identified something that they HAVE to have on the website. Ironically, your target audience also identified that this very thing they are talking about is a bad idea and they do not like it. Now what? First of all, breath deep and find your happy place. In many cases this is where web developers (and certainly education industry professionals) flip their lid. No, the manager in question isn’t qualified to speak about web design, and no they have absolutely no experience in usability – but they call the shots. Don’t fret, you still have options.

Ask why they want feature X. This might be a mis-communication. If “the manager” is a board member, have someone who feels comfortable enough call them up and have a candid conversation on why this feature has to make it into the final roll out. It may be a simple communication issue – the manager said “I’d like for it to be on the site” and someone heard “IT MUST BE ON THE SITE OR SURELY WE WILL BE IN RUIN.

…but they still want it.

Ok, this is where we dig in. First of all, did you summarize your use-ability tests, your research, your interviews, etc. into a readable and clear document? If not, get to work. If you did – go over it again. Do you have charts and graphs? Can you easily see what the users want, what people have experienced in the past as successful implementations? Make certain you can. Don’t frame your data, don’t skew it to make it look good- just make sure the results are clear.

Here’s the part that might make you squirm: They might be right. After looking at your data, and seeing what people want and have been successful with- you might have made his or her case. This is where you get to bring them the report and shower them with praise.

WAKE UP. No daydreaming.

You have your data and it’s clearly pointing to the fact that feature X is a bad idea. Present this to your manager and request a follow up meeting to talk about it. Bring your raw data and be prepared for all sorts of questions. Make your case and request we do not include feature X.

Ok. They still say no. DO NOT head to http://www.monster.com just yet.

Compromise. They obviously want this feature and don’t care that it’s bad for your website. Is there a way you can implement feature X to limit it’s exposure? Could you possibly negotiate to get feature Y (the one you were going to ask for next week) into the site? Find a way to soften the blow to meet the needs of your target audience.

The ideal setting would have people who call the shots deferring to “experts” in the respective fields who know more about subject X than they do. This always isn’t the case, so more than likely you’re going to deal with this situation in one way or another. Remember that you are setting a precedent in how you react to your manager. If it turns into a painful experience for both of you, you might not get the chance to be heard the next time. Keep your head up, do your homework and live to fight another day. :)

Sprout: WYSIWYG Flash

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Technology | Posted on 30-01-2008-05-2008

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A new site sprouted up called Sprout (horrible pun), and it’s in Private Beta.  Just launched today and will be open to public in a few weeks. It’s basically a WYSIWYG online Flash Editor/Builder. Try this link to check it out. It was supposed to be for first 200 users, but I got in somehow.

Update: Powerful tool for sure.   I can pull in a YouTube video, give it my own custom skin, add text to it, etc.  Put it on my website, and it has no YouTube branding.  Would be great for universities that don’t agree with using other sites for hosting videos, etc.  What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?

Another few features I see that will be useful for personal and professional:  Google Charts, Yahoo! Maps, Polls, Music Jukebox, auto upload to WordPress, iGoogle, Facebook, Orkut, Livejournal, BlackPlanet, etc etc etc.  It’ll be interesting to what comes out of this: useful web tools, or more 2.0 junk for Myspace pages?  (And don’t forget to delete your MySpace page today on behalf of International Delete Your Myspace Account Day!)

Lifecasters: Second Try

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Lifecasting, Vlogging, Web | Posted on 29-01-2008-05-2008

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Last year, about 2 weeks on the job, I pitched a lofty proposal to have Lifecasters in addition to bloggers. These lifecasters would have a setup similar to Justin.TV, and would essentially stream live video of their college experience for future students to see what it’s really like (outside of marketing, microsites, and rehearsed pitches).

Last year the response was basically “no way”, or “you really think it’s a good idea to let students with cameras walk around campus and show what it’s like?!?” My general answer… Yes. They decided that we should get the bloggers going and see how that would go first. (Side note: everyone was worried about letting bloggers say what they want, letting people comment without moderation, etc. etc. etc. Guess how much content we have had to moderate or delete? ZERO.)

At what point will we stop trying to show students what we think they will like to hear, and just start showing them what it’s really like to go somewhere? Even our overnight visit programs are strategically designed and planned, and I agree there needs to be some sort of organization, but is there truly a way to give a student a “real” experience without putting them in danger? :)

I’d love to hear what you all think about this. I’ll admit I have generally been hush-hush about my Lifecaster initiative because I would have liked for my University to be on the forefront of this technology, but now it seems that it might be beneficial for others to be doing it before I can try to get some buy-in. At least I can say I tried, and I had all the resources ready. Even Justin.TV was going to stream our video for FREE. (Click this link and listen to our conversation from about 7 months ago, scroll to 1:05. Most of the clip got cut from its original version for some reason.)

And if anyone knows of a school that’s doing this, leave a comment so I can check it out. And as always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Blogger Chat on Wednesday

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Flip Ultra, Recruitment | Posted on 28-01-2008-05-2008

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Just a heads up – I’m hosting a chat on Wednesday from 7-9pm starring the infamous Butler Bloggers (at least that’s what they say). If you want to lurk and see what kind of questions are being asked, leave a comment and I’ll send you the invite. We invited 25K students in hopes of a 1% success rate. Going to have the Flip Ultra there and upload videos of the Bloggers chatting with students as we go, so that should be fun.

Flip Ultra = Thumbs Up.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Flip Ultra, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Technology, Vlogging, Web, YouTube | Posted on 28-01-2008-05-2008

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The first videos from the Flip Ultra are now online at YouTube. Christina took the camera for the weekend, and in 3 short days we now have video of:

  • Butler Basketball Game
  • Places to eat near campus
  • Inside Clowes Hall during a performance
  • Tour of sorority house

Tomorrow I have to tweak Community Server to allow the videos to be embedded dirSquaredPeg › Create New Post — WordPressectly into the blogs, but I’ve seen a few modules out there already.

Assuming this new venture continues to go well, next year each Blogger will have their own camera to use.  At only $150 each on Amazon, and a $15 Educator Discount, these cameras will soon catch on like wildfire in the Higher Ed ring.  Let me know how you are using Flip cameras at your school or are planning/wanting to use them!

Vlogging Guidelines

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Flip Ultra, Vlogging, YouTube | Posted on 24-01-2008-05-2008

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A few people have asked me how I plan to go about the guidelines of vlogging, so I just wanted to throw this document up real quick.  It has a share-alike CC license on it, so feel free to suggest some additions or build off of it.

And remember, this is what the students get, not the administration. :)

Flip Ultra Test

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Flip Ultra, Higher Education, Marketing, Technology, Vlogging, YouTube | Posted on 24-01-2008-05-2008

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So far, I’m pretty impressed with this little thing. Seriously, it’s tiny. Nice screen, 30fps, 640×480 shooting resolution, which is plenty for YouTube. I shot this video and plugged the Flip into my PC and uploaded to YouTube using their software. Part of me wonders if I could get a higher quality to YouTube if I shot it through iMovie rather than their software. I think 1 minute of filming came in around 20mb, but they compress it to a .wmv before uploading to YouTube. Anyways, here it is. Or rather, here I am.

Google Docs gets more amazing

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Google, Higher Education, Technology | Posted on 24-01-2008-05-2008

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How long will it be until Universities start dropping their expensive hardware (and employees!) and start heading towards free online solutions? (And on the other hand, how long until Google starts charging for their awesomeness?)

Check this article out: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3c4mse

Basically, you can now right click on a document on your computer and send it to Google Docs.  That’s pretty amazing.

Time for some vlogging

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Flip Ultra, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Vlogging, Web, YouTube | Posted on 23-01-2008-05-2008

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At my last job I did a few vlogs (video blogs) with the bloggers, but the process was just difficult. They had to get the camcorder from the media lab, shoot their stuff (and really there wasn’t much going on around campus), get it back to me (if they remembered), then I had to edit it, compress it, upload it, send the embed code to them, and then they would post it. It was moderately successful, with one video having over 1,000 views to date. (YouTube ‘UIS Bloggers‘)

After hearing good things about the Flip Video Ultra Camcorder, I just went ahead and ordered one and it will be here tomorrow. I plan on giving it to the Bloggers whenever they want it for the day/weekend/night, and then letting them fly. Then they can just plug it in, create their clip, upload it to YouTube, and embed it.

Hopefully this turns out to be a good thing, and it wasn’t a waste of $160 for me. I figure I can always use it too. :)

PS: I went with Orange, but you can get White, Pink, or Black too.

PSS: Matt asked me on Twitter how I plan to go about distributing it, etc. Haven’t thought that far yet, so I’ll just share the email I sent to my bloggers:

Hey again!
Since there’s not really a place to check out a camcorder here on campus I went ahead and bought a Flip Ultra for you all to use. Anna has volunteered to be the first so she can pick it up tomorrow. I’ll get some sort of guidelines/usage together (i.e. don’t break it or tell my wife I bought it, hahaha!). Basically, just film small clips around campus that might help students better visualize what campus is like. Your room, your roommates, a small clip of a fun class, what lunchtime is like, a sporting event, a cool event you’re going to (PostSecret/Colin Powell anyone?), etc etc etc. Possibilities are endless. I’m really looking forward to what we can come up with using this!

PSSS: As far as where it goes:  Their Blogs, Facebook Blogger Fan Page, Facebook Butler University Fan Page, and YouTube. Maybe Twitter and Ning? Can you tell I’m still processing all of this as we start the journey?  Can you tell that I don’t need a 10 person committee to formulate my plan, and it will still turn out great?  Can you???? :)