Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TED Tuesday: Neil Harbisson Sees Infrared and Ultraviolet

In this fascinating talk Neil Harbisson talks about using a device which converts color to sound.  He's funny and engaging and presents an amazing perspective of the world as someone who has never seen color but hears it, and how it's impacted his perspective of fashion, created connections between individuals and interpreted music.

Full transcript and downloads available from TED

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creating Accessible Links for the Web and Documents

The web has allowed us to quickly point people to a piece of information, news article, website or profile through the use of hyperlinks.   Word documents which are intended foremost to be printed, but also distributed electronically, links can pose accessibility problems because in print you'd want links to look one way and electronically another. However there is a way to meet both needs. 

On the web, you hide where the link goes behind the text which tells you what the link is. For example, instead of putting in the full web address of a site such as,  you'd tell the reader where the link goes such as  Boing Boing. When someone visits a website, we know that people are viewing it electronically and there's no assumption that it'll be printed so there's no reason to display links outright.  If someone wants to follow the link, they click it.  

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) state specify that for accessibility reasons this is how it should be done:
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context): The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general. (Level A)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization which issues the WCAG,  explains (my emphasis):
The intent of this Success Criterion is to help users understand the purpose of each link so they can decide whether they want to follow the link. Whenever possible, provide link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context. Assistive technology has the ability to provide users with a list of links that are on the Web page. Link text that is as meaningful as possible will aid users who want to choose from this list of links. Meaningful link text also helps those who wish to tab from link to link.
In a nutshell, when a user is using a screen reader, which converts text to speech,  they can move from link to link in a document or on a webpage.   When these user do this, they are presented with a meaningful list of link locations rather an the full url or web address of the links. 

If you're preparing a document for print, hiding where the link goes means the reader won't know what the web address is for that site, much less follow it.   We know that people will be viewing it in printed form so we need to display the link so they can use it later and type it into their browser.  If that same document is on your website or given to participants electronically it needs to be formatted so that people using assistive technology can  hear meaningful information about the link rather than the web address.   So rather than simply hiding the link or displaying the link, use both, and make the entire thing a single long hyperlink.  For example if I was doing a presentation on the Job Accommodation Network's (JAN) Searchable on line Resource (SOAR), in the documents I would list it as:

It means that individuals who use screen readers to read the document electronically get the benefit of having meaningful information read to them, and those who print the document get the benefit of seeing what the target of the link it, the actual web address or url.  If you wish, you can make it visually appear like the rest of the text in the document by changing the styling of hyperlinks so that they don't appear blue and underlined which can sometimes interfere with reading web addresses in print documents (especially if they have underscores "_" in them).

Again, this applies only to documents such as Word documents, Adobe Pdf documents, and PowerPoint.  This strategy should not be applied on webpages themselves where only the meaingful text should be displayed.

It's a small example of how a simple fix can make the document more accessible and more usable to all of your users.  

This is the first part in a series discussing the accessibility issues of electronic documents originally prepared for print audiences.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Medium" and the Message

Interesting article over at Kernel "Where Blogs go Next" about a new platform called Medium which allows people to log into it using their Twitter account and create longer form pieces which are then posted to the Medium site and Twitter with the intent of driving traffic back to Medium for the full piece. 

I'm not sure what the author's connection is with the site, but is obviously a fan.   They state:
"The trouble with services such as WordPress and Blogger ... is that you normally require your own domain name, email and smartphone to make them work. A service such as WordPress has unlimited possibilities ...but is also very complicated and difficult to use on anything but but fanciest smartphone. Blogger is the same. Medium, however, is looking to change all that."
I'm not sure how Slater-Robbins got his/her Twitter account, but mine required an e-mail   Max notes that you need your own domain name and smartphone for Wordpress and Blogger, wrong and wrong.   Both Wordpress and Blogger will give you (free) website as a sub domain of their main site (yoursite.Blogger/ and work on other technology other than smartphones, er, computers or tablets (basically any internet connected device). They also go on to imply that because a similar site is invite only, that Blogger and Wordpress are.  Making out that either of these platforms as complex or exclusive is ludicrous. 

One thing I like about Medium is, what Slater-Robbins called "not dissimilar to Pintrest", you get a picture and brief summary  to draw you into the category or article. Nice visual effect tied to the article. 
screen view of Medium website

I do find Medium's model of blending of blogs interesting. It appears that rather than mine and yours, I post to the most appropriate category of blog, post short story, cancer etc. I also have the option of starting a new category. There's currently only a small selection of categories and it is currently not open to everyone to post to.  

I like it more from the browsing categories on Medium angle than from the Twitter angle.  The reason being, if I am browsing on Medium I have discovery,  where if I subscribe to a particular author on Twitter, I assume I'll pick up their posts regardless of category.  So whether its on Medium or their personal blog, it won't matter to the consumer where the long form version sits.

From a content producer side, I can see that if someone ends up on Medium and is browsing around, I could more easily be discovered, but at what cost? Currently there are no ads on the site, but the Kernel article notes that it will be advertisement supported, but none are currently displayed.  The article doesn't specify what, if any, cut authors will receive.

As a writer, I wouldn't be posting full length pieces on Medium.  Why?  When unpaid writers contributed to  the Huffington post they did so freely.  While they received advertisement revenue, they didn't receive any portion of the $315 million which the site was sold forOne writer notes that they were approached to write for HuffPo "they wanted me to simply give them my writing in exchange for “exposure”."  Medium strikes me as more of the similar.

Medium is a very interesting approach.  I suspect it'll do okay, get some traction.  All told it will be comprised of:
  1. People who want to post more than 140 characters, but don't see themselves as bloggers or entrepreneurs to justify having their own platform and are fine with posting their content without any real ownership.
  2. People who do see themselves as bloggers or entrepreneurs worthy of a domain will post their links on Twitter and Medium but will drive both back to their actual domain.  
Either way, Medium becomes the adjunct to developing a platform rather than the platform itself. While we're all at the mercy of the algorithms to some extent, a content producer's place is on their own domain where they can control what is shown and when, and be sure that both the content and the revenues are theirs.
Visit  Medium or follow them on Twitter
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