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House of Leaves, Interactive Books, and Ergodic Literature

I read my first interactive book when I was 3. It was called Pat the Bunny, and it required the reader to touch, scratch, and otherwise interact with the pages. Like most people, I outgrew these sort of books by the time I was 6. But last month I rediscovered interactive books, in the adult version: ergodic literature.

What is Ergodic Literature?

According to Wikipedia, ergodic literature is a book where “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text.” In other words, a book where the words go up, down, sideways, and backwards, sometimes require moving back and forth across pages, or are written within smaller boxes on the page.

house-of-leaves-sample

The ergodic book I was reading was House of Leaves: a film critique within a book within a book. I’m still not sure whether I enjoyed it, whether I would recommend it, whether or not it’s a “good” story or a “good” book. I can’t say it’s the most enjoyable read – it does require nontrivial effort – but it did capture my attention. What is most fascinating to me about ergodic (and interactive) literature though, is the emphasis on layout. And to me, a content strategist, the possible impact of ergodic literature on intelligent content. Continue Reading

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Content Types vs. Not Content Types

Often, the concept of “content types” is one of the hardest things for clients to wrap their minds around. They begin talking about content types and instead begin talking about their different products, their target audiences, or their CMS fields. Of course, all of these are related, which makes the whole mess even more difficult to untangle.

What is a content type?

I’ve yet to see a clear description of a content type, and the best I’ve come up with is this: it’s a type of content.

However, in my experience a good set of examples is better than all the descriptions in the world.

Examples of content types: An Event, a Book, a Video, a Tweet, a Product

Why are these content types? They are things, or entities, that are made up of various content attributes. An Event might be made up of the attributes (or metadata fields) Event Title, Event Description, Event Date, and Event Organizer. Meanwhile a Book may have only one attribute: Book Title, or multiple: Book Author, Book Description, Book Image.

Why does it matter? Clients don’t need to understand what content types are, but content strategists need to set up their CMSs to accurately serve up the right content to the right people.

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A Rose by Any Other Name

One of the most difficult decisions we came up against in wedding planning was choosing a first dance song. While we weren’t doing a traditional “first dance,” we did want to ensure that the first slow song of the evening was one we liked, and one that felt representative of us. We had many requirements, including:

  • We both needed to like the song
  • The music needed to be something we could dance to
  • The lyrics couldn’t be about a break up or unhappy relationship Continue Reading
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Don’t Call Me Goddess

I recently received an email from an organization recommending I purchase their product. It was addressed “Dear Goddess.”

When we look at examples of emails, site copy, and other content, this is the type of term that makes us smile. We think “that’s so daring!” and “Fantastic that they know their audience so well.” Guess what my reaction was when I received the email? It didn’t make me smile.

I don’t say this out of low self esteem, but I’m not a Goddess. I like myself just fine. I’m a smart person, a fun person (I think), a good speaker, an experienced content strategist, a fantastic aunt (if I do say so myself), an excellent storyteller, and I have many other lovely qualities. I also enjoy the occasional pet name. But Goddess just feels… silly.

That’s not to say that “Goddess” is the wrong address for everyone. But it was wrong when personalized for me. Continue Reading

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Should We Use Video?

Following a handful of stakeholder meetings, one of my coworkers recently gave me a heads up that we should concentrate our content creation around videos. I was a little surprised to hear that, since we hadn’t spoken to end-users yet. As we discussed the situation, it became clear that these were the main reasons the client felt we should focus on video content:

  • Their team had already invested a lot of money in videos.
  • It’s easier to track user engagement on videos than for articles, because you can see both the number of views and how far into the video they watched.
  • Someone high up in the organization had expressed the strong opinion that videos are more fun than other forms of content.

None of these are good reasons. Continue Reading

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Trends vs. Experiences

An aspiring content strategist recently asked me how to know which trends to pay attention to. I wasn’t sure what to tell her, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and here are some of the ways I think we can tell flash-in-the-pan trends from best practices.

  1. First, and most importantly, ask: does it improve the experience in a core way? For example, personalization started as a trend, but the basic premise of personalizing information for someone will dramatically improve their experience. Flat design, on the other hand, is attractive but in some cases less accessible, and thus less likely to stick around. Continue Reading
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Small Destructions Everywhere

I’ve talked before about my favorite talk of all time, Mike Montiero’s How Designers Destroyed the World, which starts with a terrifying and impactful story. The story boils down to this: a young woman in college joined the LGBTQ choir. Her choir leader added her to the group’s Facebook page, and Facebook automatically shared her joining the group on her Newsfeed. However, the young woman had not come out to her family yet, and her extremely religious community at home sent her hate mail.

The moral of the story is that we, as designers, need to consider not only the best case scenarios, but also the worst case, the edge cases, the stress cases, etc.

When Montiero first gave this talk, audiences were wowed. The idea that we, as designers, might cause harm rather than good was frightening and unexpected. However, I fear that in the years since then we’ve begun to see stories like this as “other,” the sort of nightmare that happens to someone else – not to us. Continue Reading

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Time and Place

“I passed on Slack. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it! What is it, is it email, is it a chat room?” -Monica, Silicon Valley

A few months ago, my coeditors at UX Booth began using Slack. Like Monica (thanks Silicon Valley!) I didn’t get it. It annoyed me – popped up at inconvenient times, and generally got in the way of me accomplishing other work. When my team at Mad*Pow started discussing the possibility of switching from our chat client to Slack, I was vehemently opposed. I couldn’t believe we would be so stupid! I HATED Slack.

I was overruled, and to my shock, Slack has been a fantastic communication tool for the Mad*Pow team. Yet the UX Booth team Slack channel continues to interrupt and generally annoy me. Continue Reading

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Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Excellent

I have a secret to share. A deep, dark one that I’ve kept hidden for a long, long time. It’s a secret that many people will judge me for. They may lose respect for me, or think I’m lazy. This is my secret: I don’t like seeing projects through.

I first noticed it when I overheard someone explaining the pros and cons of working for an agency. One of the cons was that you never see your projects continue to grow and develop through the years. And I thought “that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like being able to walk away while the project still looks perfect. Lucky me!” Then I began to pick up on a sense of pity for content strategists in-house, who have the “boring” work of upkeep, long after the initial audits and strategy sessions have ended. Soon I began to suspect, but it was still years before I acknowledged the truth.

I love being able to hand off a project in the “ideal” stage.

But now I have a problem.

Continue Reading

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Recommended reading: Contagious

Very few books get a 5 star rating from me. 5 stars, to me, means this book was so fantastic that I want to own it, so that I can reread it again and again. The few books that do get this rating tend to be classics (e.g. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Little Women, War and Peace), or really well written sci fi/fantasy (e.g. Words of Radiance, Queen of the Tearling). I’m not sure I’ve ever before read a “work” book that I rated 5 stars, but here I am, about to buy Contagious, because I can’t let another minute go by without having this book to reference.

If you’re a content creator, content strategist, content marketer, or in any other way touch content, you need to read Contagious, by Jonah Berger. It won’t teach you marketing, or how to sell to people, or how to make products contagious. It will teach you about people: what connects us, and what we tend to respond when it comes to content.

Contagious is broken up into 6 sections, each focusing on a different commonality across viral content. It’s well written, engaging, and provides concrete examples that I’ll be referencing for years to come.

Trust me. Read Contagious. You won’t regret it.