Tech

Some Non-Nerdy Thoughts On Joomla Day New England

To all of you who think I’m smart, thanks. You know how well compliments work on me.

That said, it’s important to keep whatever awesome things you think about yourself in check. Every day I’m humbled about my brain power by dealing with people much smarter than myself (Matthew Baya, Tom Beal, Jeremy Mason, Ogy Nikolic, David Charron, and several others come to mind very easily). Mainly, I deal with my smart friends over the internet or phone on a one on one basis. Very seldom do I find myself in a room of 100 people who are all blowing my mind.

The group of smartypants people. Good luck finding me, I'm kind of hidden in the back. Photo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/hagengraf/

Welcome to Joomla Day New England, a yearly gathering of Joomla enthusiasts in Brattleboro Vermont. For those of you unaware, Joomla is an open source content management system. 2-ish% of the world’s websites run on Joomla and, if you consider all the options that are out there, that’s a pretty robust number. There are Joomla Days all over the place but this is the closest one to my corner of the world.

(Aside: But wait, Nicole, didn’t you fly in from Europe less then 24 hours before repacking your suitcase and doing a 6 hour drive in each direction for this one day conference? Why, yes I did! My friend and former coworker Mike drove which is the only reason this was even possible. Thanks Mike, who is also on that list of smart people but I don’t get to deal with too often sadly.)

You super nerds will notice looking at my source code that while I did attend a pro-Joomla event,  I am writing on a Wordpress blog. Basically I’m the web development equivalent of this guy at first glance:

So can I really talk about Joomla websites when I run Wordpress on my own site? Yes, and here’s why:

It’s about choice, and the right tool for the job.

I began life as a blogger. Wordpress began life as a blogger. Joomla has some blogging extensions but at the time I was picking blogging software, Wordpress was the best choice for blogging.

Can you blog on Joomla? Absolutely. I just preferred the taste of Wordpress. I still work on and can appreciate a Joomla site…. much like you can enjoy Coke or a Pepsi, much like I can speak French and English, life is all about variety.

As long as your website is open source, I love it.

Whether you go with Joomla, Wordpress, or Drupal is of little consequence to your website developer, or to your website visitor. As someone keeping your site up to date, I need the access information on your site. (If I can’t do something, there are forums, experts on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, and lots of places online and off for me to learn anything I need to.)

Your website visitor needs to find the information they need to find. Most of them won’t even know what software you are running. Like at all.

Open source website software is free to download and you pay a designer/developer to customize it. This means for the money you spend, you are getting closer to the website you want than you would be otherwise. It also means you aren’t stuck  your website designer. Open source software systems are used worldwide so you can always find someone to work on your site, not just the person who designed it. I tell people to stay away from ‘custom CMS’ whenever possible. ‘Custom’ is code for ‘only we can work on it’ and you should only be married to your web designer if you are in love with them. ;^)

FMI: Here is a cheesy post I wrote about website options: http://breakingeveninc.com/web-tech/website-types/

FEMI: Here is why I will talk you out of a Flash website any day of the week: http://breakingeveninc.com/web-tech/why-flash-websites-stink/

We can all learn from each other.

Imagine if there was only one brand of soft drink. Would there be any incentive to improve the product? Market it better? Probably not.

Open source CMSes are all learning from each other. Getting a sneak peek at Joomla version 3.1 I thought I could definitely see some Wordpress inspiration. On that end, I see Wordpress needing to get more intuitive on  publishing widgets to selective parts of the site (I see some plugins kind of doing this but not intuitively) and both CMSes needing specific user permission levels a la Drupal. Maybe I’m not putting some of these improvement ideas as elegantly as I should for the smarter-than-me people reading this but my point is all software has limitations, and because of that there is room for improvement everywhere. Sometimes improvements can be inspired by other companies in our space.

Smart translates.

My favorite talk of the day, an introduction to responsive web design for mobile websites was given by Jason Mark, a knowledgeable but accessible professional…. who mainly uses Drupal. Was he booed? Did people throw tomatoes? No, we packed a room to hear what he had to say.

My point is that as web developers, no matter what software we use, we are concerned with the same things for our clients and ourselves: the increasing power of the mobile web, how search engine optimization is changing, our place in the web development process as tools for web design become cheaper and more user friendly. Most of what I learned at this conference can be applied to a Joomla, Wordpress, or Drupal website.

What I liked about this conference was that it was a humble group of collaborative people, showing each other fixes and projects and asking good questions. I even got to share baked goods and conversation for a few minutes with the head of the foundation that governs Joomla Paul Orwig, which kind of felt like playing foozball with the CEO of Coca Cola.

So if attending a Joomla conference makes me a Pepsi driver who drinks Coke, guilty. But anywhere where I can learn something, and anywhere with a group of people that’s smarter than me about what I do for a living is somewhere I should be… even if it does involve jetlag.

Flip The Dog: My Video Experiment

So my mom got me a Flip video camera for Christmas. She figured it would be good for my business. And rightly so… only I haven’t used it for business yet. I’ve instead been videotaping my dog because she’s wicked cute. A couple of my friends have found the reason for some of my videos interesting so I thought I’d write about it here on the blog.

My dog Gidget is pretty mild mannered. But when I leave the house, she turns into a panicked barking machine.

I always assumed that she barked for 5 or 10 minutes, saw it wasn’t helping, and went to sleep. But assumptions are a dangerous thing and her habit seems to be getting worse lately.

To test my hypothesis, I decided to conduct a series of experiments using video. I focused the Flip camera on Gidget’s crate (hidden in a plant, she’s a bit camera shy) when I left the house.

Turns out 5 minutes of barking is actually more like 50. I also watched her anxious behavior on the first movie: chewing on parts of the crate, clawing at the door, etc. It actually seemed like she calmed down around 30 minutes and laid down but something out of eyeshot and earshot made her sit up and start barking again. *sigh* Sorry, neighbors! (Fortunately, no one has complained yet. Few!)

The next test was how she would react to being in the crate while I was still home. (Question: Was it the crate that bothered her or me leaving?) Other than periodic whining and panting, she seemed fine being in the crate when I was home. Guess that answers that!

To test the ‘she doesn’t need a crate theory’ some people had, I left Gidget loose in the house while I left for four hours. I even set her up for success, making sure all food was put away and garbage cans where secured or lifted off the floor. I was also low key when I left so as not to get her riled up.

When I got home, she had eaten through several business cards (that I saw evidence of), half a magazine, and a gas card. I clearly can’t leave her loose because 1) her anxiety is clearly me leaving and not the crate and 2) if I keep this up, I’ll lose all my business contacts.

While making a four hour voice recording of myself pretending to be home wasn’t feasible, playing my mp3 player while I was gone was. For a second round of video taping, I put Gidget in the crate with music playing. Then I snuck out of my own house, (which feels kind of ridiculous to do as an adult in broad daylight from your own house!). In this video, her barking starts much later, as it takes her awhile to realize I left. It’s also has a lower volume and frequency and if you have iMovie or some other video/audio software, you can measure the sound waves like I did.

This evening was my third and final video experiment  to see if, over the last week, Gidget’s crate behavior has improved. In this video, she stops barking around the 12 minute mark and intermittently barks the rest of the 50 minute video, much less frequently than the other two. Yay progress, even slow progress.

In other words, I’m a big nerd  who is probably overly concerned with the neighbors wanting to kill me while I crate train my dog but I have used these movies to see whether my dog training is working. The vet says this could take up to a year or a year and a half to crate train her since she was an adult when I got her. Eight months into the training though, I see thanks to Flip that I shouldn’t give up my efforts. Good thing she’s cute!

It’s fun to use technology for it’s not quite intended purpose once in awhile, don’t you think?

I Did It For Science And Fun Friday: Chat Roulette

On Fridays I write about (almost) whatever I want. Because it’s fun.
Like everyone else on earth, I’ve been hearing lots about ‘chat roulette’. I give my friend Ogy credit for ‘breaking’ the story because right after he mentioned it, all of a sudden everyone was talking about it… to the point where Jon Stewart had to create a parody.
For those of you who also don’t spend way too much time on the internet, here’s what it is: You go to www.chatroulette.com, enter your birthday for age verification, and you get to a simple interface. You can turn your webcam and microphone on or off. Random strangers show up in the other video camera window. If you want to talk to someone else, click ‘next’. That’s it.
So you hear about all these terrible or weird things you are going to see. And I’m not telling you I didn’t see anything inappropriate but I didn’t see nearly as much bad stuff as I was expecting. A few observations.
Chatroulette is like that chatrooms of way back, except now better looking people have an advantage.
It’s oddly insulting when someone takes one look at you and clicks the ‘next’ button. That said, it’s nice when a hot girl tells you you’re ‘sexi’. By actually seeing the person, there is a bit more of feeling like you at least know a bit about who you are talking to.

Aren’t good looking are are afraid people won’t talk to you? Try to be memorable. Wear a mask, play an instrument, be a puppet listening to people’s emotional problems (all have apparently happened). Take a cue from the Chinese who are having much more zany fun with this than the average American like myself.

Eddie, one of my chat friends, and I decide to look investigatory as we both stick pencils behind our ears for my screenshot (with his permission, because I am not a jerkface).
Other people seem to also be investigating.
I won’t say I didn’t run across a few naked people but I ended up having nice conversations with an Egypian business student and a New York book publisher, two people I would have never otherwise talked to.

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Marketing Monday: Goop

Editor’s Note: Thank you all for your kind condolences about the death of my dog. I appreciate your compassion, and am happy to report that I am feeling much better this week. Many thanks.
Know an individual or business doing something cool to promote themselves online? Let me know about it and they might be featured as part of Marketing Monday!


Goop's front page. Flash driven and a little vague (bad) but graphic and simple (good).
I’d first of all like to keep this blog a positive one. There are so many people doing so many good things online, to promote their business or otherwise.
Today, I wanted to review Gwyneth Paltrow’s website called Goop. It’s mission is to ‘nurture the inner aspect’ and is supposed to be about things in Gwenyth Paltrow’s life.
Recently, her post about a New Year’s cleanse recieved some media attention at both Nerve and Huffington Post and just this past weekend, the site came up in conversation over lunch with two of my friends in the media.
The only reason this website seems to work is because it belongs to Gwenyth Paltrow. I haven’t found anyone who ‘gets it’.
Goop does not embrace internet terms.
A web magazine written by one person about their life is called a blog.
Goop can call its posts ‘articles’ all it wants but in doing so alienates itself from the blogging community. I could see the use of another term if this website was launched five years ago when blogs weren’t nearly as prevalent . But nowadays, bloggers are used as experts on television news programs and followed by media types on social media for story tips.
Bloggers are far from obscure and distancing yourself from a group of people also trying to create online content seems like a silly thing to do. Let’s not mention the fact that bloggers spend a lot of their time talking about and linking to other websites. Not one of them? That certainly makes it hard to become part of the community.
It’s unclear whether the site is compensated for the products it endorses.
A whole section of Goop is called ‘Get’ and seems to endorse cool products. No where on the site could I find policies about these products. Does Gwyneth Paltrow receive financial or other compensation for putting these products on her site? Does she personally use them? It’s hard to say.
As a reader of the site, I’d like to know. A simple ‘About’ section of ‘FAQ’ would do wonders at answering some small questions about the site and its policies.
Goop doesn’t link to other sites.
Not linking to other sites makes you 1) less connected with other web developers and 2) doesn’t help your search engine ranking. This is why all bloggers have a blogroll or list of links we like: because it’s good for us and good for the people we link to.
Not having many (or perhaps any) links off the site seems like a missed opportunity, not only for increased traffic to Goop but also for Paltrow to use her star power to help out smaller sites. You can’t buy the kind of good buzz that would create.

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div>In short, celebrities can get away with things the rest of us can’t.

Most regular people can’t get away with a ‘this is stuff i like’ blog, if only because most of us have a limited audience. There are probably 30 people in my life who would care about everything Nicole Ouellette likes in my case. I am not Oprah, and this is why my blog entries have an undercurrent of money and marketing. It is why most blogs have a topic or subject they are about: more universal appeal.
What is Goop about? Whatever Gwenyth Paltrow feels like needs to be covered that particular week.
As my Twitter friend Marc Pitman puts it, it looks like Goop is “trying to do WAY too much”. I agree.
Some people do like a website that covers a lot of ground though, but for those of us who like to know what to expect, it’d be great if there’d be a preview of what’s coming up. No doubt the staff that maintains this site plans ahead for content and letting readers in on the not-so-distant future offerings I think would lead to increased overall satisfaction with readers.
Also, it would be great if Goop engaged it’s readers in some way. Featuring helpful comments in the weekly newsletter or having reader guest bloggers would no doubt increase Goop’s appeal and further connect it to other cool things going on online.
While Goop has interesting written content and a clean design, the posts have no photos.
The posts on Goop are text heavy; it would be great to have some graphic elements to get the content more skimmable and make the website prettier. Perhaps this is a place where readers could contribute if they knew about the topic ahead of time. Just an idea…
In short, Goop is not the world’s most terrible website but it could further its mission with some thoughtful tweaks and increased reader engagement.
Want some other opinions besides mine?



A Note About Online Privacy: There Is None

It’s been interesting to watch reactions to Facebook’s changes in their privacy policy. Status updates of some of my friends have outlined how to change privacy settings by unclicking a box in the administrative options of a profile. Then I saw an interesting post on Beth’s Blog about a movement called Seppukoo (named after the noble death of samaris who threw themselves down on their swords) to get people to cancel their Facebook accounts and reclaim their lives.
Committing virtual suicide: One way to ensure your privacy. The other is to embrace the internet as part of your public life.
I haven’t felt very strongly about any of this because I’ve always felt that anything I post on the internet, whether it’s a tweet or a blog or a status update, can be accessed by anyone with enough tech skills.

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The Value Of An Online Versus Traditional Education Environment

Someone asked me to write a post about online degrees. Since I had no experience, I put it out to my Twitter followers. The following is a guest post from Ginger, one of my Twitter friends. She asked me not to link to her account because she wanted to be really candid about her experiences. Here is what she had to say about getting an online degree:

Degree attained: Masters of Instructional Science and Technology
Time it took: Two years, full time online courses
Total cost: Approx. $8000 (not including books) (cost to me, after employer paid for tuition: $1000 plus books)

Financial aid: I was lucky enough to have my employer pay for my Masters. I paid only for student fees (around $250/semester) and books (varied). Thus, I definitely felt it was worth the financial and time investment, even with working full time (and sometimes overtime) and going to graduate school full time. So no, I don’t think my employer paid more for the convenience of online classes.

My program was at a state university, and was what is called a “blended learning environment,” that is we were mostly online (throughout the semester) but at the beginning of each semester (and the end of the last one before our capstone presentations) we met face-to-face. These were required sessions. So our program cost the same price another traditional graduate program on the same campus would have cost.

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