Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Problem with Your Electronic Documents

The other week I told you the problem with your tri-fold brochures. That’s just symptomatic of a larger issue with electronic documents posted to the web.

With the advent of desktop publishing we could make documents look the way we wanted. Now, with the web, we share the electronic documents. However, we’re still stuck with considering only how they look.

That’s the issue.

People continue to create documents with the idea that they're going to be printed and don't consider the formatting that goes into them and how this could impact the many other ways that people might interact with them electronically.  For example, people now might be as likely to read your document on devices such as through their phone, tablet or using assistive technologies such as screen readers.

I'm frequently called on to consult on the accessibility of documents for different agencies.   Accessibility is the ability for a document to be accessed or read by someone using assistive technology such as software which will read a document to a person with a disability.   Often times the problems with documents are fairly simple matters, but there are so many of them that it can seem overwhelming. 

Starting out with the correct formatting  and thinking about the various ways that your document will be used is important.  Today, we should never think of a document we create on a computer as only a printed document.   So often these documents will be shared electronically either as handouts, download, accommodations and frequently on the web.   For that reason, attending to formatting and the look of a document is imperative.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series of articles on different considerations when creating documents.  These will focus on visual elements as well as formatting, background, alternative formats and how we share documents.   Where available and appropriate, I'll be drawing on references from the webdesign community, advocacy groups and other resources.  For example World Wide Web Consortium is a group of individuals and organizations who work together to develop web standards.  Many of these same standards have applicability to other documentation and how it is shared electronically. 

I'd welcome questions in the comments or leave me a voice mail with your question at 207.619.2342 and I'll try to answer it.

I hope it will give you some tips and tricks to make your work more efficient and accessible. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cassette Tape table from Skierka designs Now Available

I'd previously written about this amazing cassette tape table from Jeff Skierka.It's a 30' x 47 1/4 maple, Baltic birch plywood and walnut table with a glass top.  

It's now available for purchase form Jeff's website, Jeff Skierka Designs for $4950.   From the video they've released to accompany the sale of the table, they've modified the design to use ply wood and CNC machines to do the detial work.

The video below provides some idea of the steps and labor involved in creating this table. Even if the parts are cut using a machine, the work involved in this table is immense.

wooden table which looks like a cassette tape. Image taken from right corner just above table level

Close up of right bottom corner showing glass top and layers of plywood for body

"If it doesn't flip, it's not a true tape. It has to flip. It's a tape."
- Jeff Skierka 

Two men holding table top as they flip it over

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facebook is Broken: Government Edition

I woke Monday morning to find my car missing from the street in front of my house.  I called the police and the dispatcher informed me that it had been towed due to a parking ban because of snow.  They couldn’t locate an announcement on their site.  They did however find it posted on their Facebook page.  

Social Media has been the rallying cry for much of 2012. Because of this, many businesses and public agencies are staking a presence on Facebook and other social media sites.   Meet the people where they are, right? 


Public agencies have a different remit and responsibility than private business. Using a private website such as Facebook as an adjunct to their primary site can be a great way to promote a city or an agency and the good things that are happening there.  It can be a way to build a community and converse with the constituents.  However, Facebook and other social media outlets should not replace posting information and announcements on a government site (or a business's site for that matter).  

Last month the blog Dangerous Minds announced “Facebook: I want my Friends Back”.  He’d noticed that despite increasing number of “likes” on his page from fans, the traffic to his website from Facebook was decreasing.  The short version is that Facebook does not post every announcement by you to all of the people who follow or “like” your page.   “Each post was now being seen only by a fraction of their total “fans” who would previously have seen them”   According to the New York Observer
“Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans....if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

Sponsoring posts means paying.  It offers publishers the option to promote a post, which extends a post’s reach to additional users.   For bloggers and website owners, this can mean a lot of money to reach the people that have liked their page. . 

For government agencies this means that emergency or time sensitive announcements are not getting to a large number of people who, may or may not, believe they’re getting them.  Announcements government makes can be legally obligated such as public hearings or legal proceedings or have legal implications like parking bans.   In the case of my town, of the 3,754 people who “like” the local PD, approximately 563 (15%) of them had the parking ban announcement posted to their page.

What to do about it?

For Government:
  • Post every official announcement to the government page
  • If you want announcements to go to social media, use a services that posts your RSS feed to  your social media accounts.
  • Notify constituents that they should check the official agency site for announcements.
  • Encourage social media users to sign up for e-mail alerts directly from your webpage.  It’s the only page you truly control.

For the public
Social media can be a great tool, but it should not replace either a government or business keeping their own home site current.  

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