Digital Guyana

Day 2 Morning – Phonemes:

The morning session for day two comprised firstly of importing a set of elements into the flash interface. These elements are known as phonemes:

Phonemes are the positions the mouth moves to in order to create the individual sounds which make up speech. The students imported a .jpg of a phoneme set I constructed, traced them and saved each one as a symbol of the same name as the phoneme. (E.g, “Rest Position”, “A and I”, etc.)

Whilst doing this, students learned a new keyboard shortcut:

  • F8 (Convert to symbol)

Day 2 Afternoon – Lip-Synching to Audio:

In the afternoon the group learned how to import a sound file into the flash library and play it in the movie time line.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent adding keyframes in the right places to sync changes in mouth shape (phonemes) with the changes in sound in the speech. At this point a few more shortcuts were introduced:

  • F6 (New Keyframe)
  • Shift + F6 (Clear Keyframe)
  • F5 (New Frame)
  • Shift + F5 (Delete Frame)

Once the illusion of speech was attained I encouraged students to make new symbols for different facial expressions in order to add an impression of depth to their animation.

Day 3 will be added soon.

This was a half-day session aiming to build on the blogging lessons from the main course. The idea being to build on the students’ basic knowledge and introduce them to

Tools of the trade

We used WordPress.com in the lessons, but there are other blogging platforms, each with slightly different features.

There are comparisons of the various services at Online Journalism Review and TopTenReviews.

Other useful services that we discussed include:

  • Facebook – a social network
  • Twitter – a flexible micro-blogging tool
  • Delicious – a ‘social bookmarking’ website
  • Google Reader – useful for reading blogs via their RSS feeds
  • Firefox and Firefox plugins – a web browser that is preferable to Internet Explorer in many ways and allows for customisation via easy-to-use plugins.

Blog promotion

Four key concepts:

  • Write good content
  • Post regularly
  • Link generously
  • Comment on other blogs

We also looked at the concept of using other social media profiles as outposts.

It’s worth bearing in mind the basics of SEO – incoming links, keywords in tags and titles, relevant anchor text and regular content are all good.

Also, while online interaction is great, you can’t beat meeting people face-to-face for making longer lasting connections and building relationships.

We also looked at more traditional ways to promote a blog – by telling people about it, adding the URL to email signatures/flyers/posters, etc.

Other tips

The following is a random selection of hints and tips aimed at improving your blogging.

Develop an editorial calendar that will allow you to plan blog posts over the year (including any lead-in/previews).

Consider guest posts:

  • Writing on other people’s blogs will introduce you to a new audience
  • Having others write on your blog will provide your readers with a fresh perspective, a new writing style and it’ll help spread the load of writing new content.

Group blogs are blogs with several contributors. Each contributor may have different topics, days of the week to post on. A group blog spreads the amount of effort required from each person, as well as providing a place for structure and support.

Involve your audience – blogs and social media allow audience engagement in ways that broadcast media do not. By interacting with your audience you can strengthen your relationship with them and learn what content they prefer.

While asking your audience and listenting to them is important, you should be wary of pandering to the vocal minority, whose views may not be representative of all your readers.

Statistics – your can use Feedburner and Google Analytics to discover what your readers (including the silent majority) respond to.

Mix up your blog posts – use video, audio, text and photos to provide a rich and varied experience for your readers.

Write like a person – blogs work well as a conversational medium. It’s much easier to converse with a person than a press release.

Know your target audience – build up an impression of who your readers are, what they like, how they get their information and so on. This will help you write for them. Getting out and meeting your readers face to face (ie at events) will help with this.

Comments guidelines – if you have a lot of people commenting on your posts and moderation becomes necessary, it can be useful to have comment guidelines in place. This will explain to people what behaviour is not tolerated and what action (editing/deleting posts and banning commenters) may be taken if they are breached.

Finally, the best way to learn is to look at other successful bloggers and their blogs and see what they do.

This morning workshop was split into two parts. The first part looked at finding and downloading images; the second editing and improving the images with the open source image editing programme GIMP.

We started with a quick exercise using a Google Image search to illustrate how easy it is to search and download all kinds of images from the web. I then explained that it’s not really sensible to take images from other people’s websites willy nilly. This is still a bit of a legal grey area but it is technically a civil infringement to take someone’s images from their website without asking their permission. (Useful links on the subject: http://forums.digitalpoint.com and http://answers.yahoo.com)

So, the only way to be sure you’re not being naughty is to A) use your own images or B) downloads images from a free image library – of which there are many. I then asked the students to search and download an image of their choice from one of these libraries.

In the second part of the workshop we looked at image editing. Photoshop is the obvious brand leader in this field but because we wanted to foster skill sharing in the most sustainable way possible we choose to go for a free alternative to Photoshop, of which there are many. We chose GIMP because it has a similar interface to Photoshop, is quick and easy to download and is relatively easy to use.

To save time we had already downloaded it but shared the link for downloading GIMP in case our groups wanted to download it onto their own computers. We also directed their attention to the GIMP user manual, explaining that, although it is very long, it contains simple instructions to all aspects of the programme.

After opening up the programme we demonstrated the two main windows: the toolbox and the image window. We then opened an image up in GIMP and demonstrated tools including the move tool, crop tool, scale image and zoom.

We then underlined the importance of Undo (Ctrl+Z) in using such a programme and explained how pixels work before getting our groups to resize their images to a specific size using two methods. The first method used the crop tool (remembering to adjust the ratio of the crop by clicking on fixed aspect ratio and entering the required pixel dimensions). The second way saw us creating a new window of the required pixel size and copying and pasting the image into it before resizing it with the scale tool, not forgetting to select ‘Keep aspect’ – or hold ctrl – to keep the dimensions of the image.

We then asked our groups to insert their resized images into their HTML CVs and their WordPress blogs as a new picture post.

After demonstrating how to flip and rotate images we looked at enhacing pictures using the Colour Tools.

During a break in the lessons last week I picked up a copy of the phone book and flicked through to the web design section. There were only a few companies listed:

Website design in Guyana

Interesting that not all of them give a URL for their website.

The next stage was to try and Google and see which companies I could find. A search for ‘website design Guyana’ listed the following companies on the first page:

There were also results for directories such as ddir.org and Ensure, not companies themselves. My photo on Flickr (above) came up too.

Web savvy companies (such as those in the web design industry) can be expected to be ahead of the game when it comes to search engine optimisation. Not only is it a source of business but there’s a trophy element to showing you can control a strong, relevant search term in Google. It’s demonstration of your SEO services, if nothing else.

Of course, I’ve just taken a snapshot of the situation here – it falls well short of the sort of analysis that could be carried out but it’s interesting to see what the local companies are up to.

WordPress Pumpkin

We asked the students to log in to their WordPress.com accounts and go back to the blogs they had set up the previous week.

In the HTML part of the course we looked at how to make static pages and link them together to form a coherent website. We explained that WordPress allows you to create static pages too and looked at the pre-existing ‘About’ page.

We edited this page to display information that was more appropriate.

We then created a second page called ‘Links’ and compiled a list of links to the other students’ blogs.

As well as being an exercise in creating pages and working with links, this gave an opportunity to look at how anchor text works and the difference between:

The first two being fine, if a little functional. The third being a good example of descriptive anchor text and the fourth being an example to avoid copying if at all possible.

This point was related to the idea of accessibility – allowing content to be accessed by as many people as possible. We also mentioned other examples such as using ‘alt tags’ to describe images.

We also the idea of transparency and being a good ‘Internet citizen’. For example, by being upfront about any reasons for bias (including potential or perceived), not representing yourself as someone else and crediting sources.

Next we ran through a list of recommended changes to a WordPress.com blog. The blog provided by WordPress.com is good but is generally considered to need certain initial tweaks, including:

  • Deleting the ‘links’
  • Updating profile information
  • Freeing up commenting
  • Adding social bookmarking buttons to posts
  • Changing the theme and sidebar widgets

Going through these changes with the students allowed us to provide a walking tour of the dashboard and the functionality WordPress offers.

Finally, we looked at ways of finding blogs and blog posts on any subject using Google Blog Search, Technorati and Ice Rocket.

(Pic is WordPress Pumpkin by Eric M Martin)

WordCamp 2009

In the first of the two sessions on blogging we introduced the students to WordPress, explaining that it’s a very popular, free blogging service that comes with several useful features including:

  • A visual editor similar to Microsoft Word (with WordPress handling much of the HTML required)
  • A professional look
  • Flexibility to add static pages as well as blog posts
  • RSS feeds

We also explained some of the basics of search engine optimisation, showing why blogs are effect tools for making content more easily discoverable via search engines.

We introduced the students to various bits of blog-related jargon, including:

  • blog – a type of website where the most recent content typically appears at the top of the page
  • post – the name given to an individual article/piece of content on a blog
  • embedding – taking content hosted on another website and displaying it on your own
  • link – an element on a website (often a bit of text or an image) that, when clicked upon, will send the reader to another website
  • permalink – whereas the blog itself will have a domain name, each individual post will have it’s own unique URL, allowing people to link directly to that post, rather than sending people to a page that will change as soon as new content is published
  • ping – a notification, sent to various directories, that a new blog post has been published
  • comments – on most blogs, after each post, readers are able to leave feedback via the comments box
  • trackback – an automated comment that will appear if someone links to an individual blog post from their own blog post
  • sidebar – the strip down the side of the blog which may contain
  • blogroll – a list of links to related and/or relevant websites/blogs that is often found in the sidebar
  • RSS – a clever bit of technology that puts blog posts in a machine-readable format. Allows people to subscribe to the blog so they receive new updates without needing to return to the blog itself
  • uploading – adding a piece of content (photo, audio, video or document to a website from your computer

After signing up to WordPress.com, the students logged into their new blogs’ dashboard and clicked on ‘Visit site’ to see the website that had been created.

We then talked the students through the process of deleting the ‘Hello world’ post and then writing their own first blog post. These were published so that the student could see them on their blogs.

In the next exercise we asked the students to write another blog post, this time including links to other websites (in some classes they linked to each others’ blogs in order to demonstrate trackbacks).

For the students’ third blog posts the students included an image, taken from Flickr.

In some classes, where time allowed, we introduced the students to the various themes available, letting them pick one they preferred.

Having several students all logging in to WordPress at the same time put a certain strain on the internet connection, meaning that these steps took slightly longer than they would if someone was following on their own at home (for example).

(Pic is WordCamp 09 by seanosh)

This post ties together two previous ones – Hugh’s description of our trip to Arrowpoint and my post positing the idea of a Georgetown Social Media Cafe which I closed by saying:

I’ve seen plenty of proof that there are people hungry to learn and develop their skills

On the way to Arrowpoint we stopped off at Santa Mission, an Amerindian reservation that’s home to a couple of hundred people. We were given a tour and saw kids playing in the river and kicking a football around the main field.

After taking in the school, craft centre and a few other sights we made our way back to our boat, sstopping off at a non-descript building with a small generator sat outside. We weren’t expecting what we saw inside:

IMG_2224

IMG_2223

Roughly half the village’s young people crammed around a handful of computers, eager to learn and play.

I spoke to the volunteer who was working with the children (sorry, his name escapes me). They’ve not got internet access yet but it’s the next step and in the meantime the children are learning basic computer skills and, naturally, playing lots of games.

Our guide explained that although Santa Mission is fairly remote, when the children are old enough to go to the bigger schools in town it’s important that they’re not left trailing behind in such an important area as computer skills.

The good news for Guyana is that the generation coming up is keen to learn – we’ve seen it with the school groups that we’ve been teaching in the capital and we saw it again in a remote village.

In this session we gave a brief overview of online marketing and selling, finishing with an exercise where the students presented a quickly-devised online marketing plan.

Ecommerce flip chart

There are many ways in which the Internet can be used for selling goods and services. We looked at some basic online marketing techniques and then examined ways to sell directly to customers online.

Getting leads

It is possible to use the Internet to increase sales of goods and services in ‘real life’ without selling anything directly via the Internet. For instance, by publishing your location and the products you have for sale you can encourage people to contact you or visit your shop.

Establishing reputation

Businesses that sell services may not be able to sell them over the internet. However, when purchasing services (especially tradespeople – electricians, plumbers, handy-men, etc) reputation is important. By writing online about their experience, recent work and successes, people can find out whether the person is likely to do a good job for them.

Advertising

If you are writing regular content about a certain topic then it may be possible to serve adverts next to that content. Google Adsense is one method for doing this, whereby you will be paid a small amount each time someone clicks an advert on your website.

Affiliate sales

Via the Internet you can make money helping to sell other peoples’ products. An affiliate scheme is one where, if you link to a product in an online store and you send website traffic to it, you will be paid a percentage of any profits.

Amazon Associates is the affiliate scheme for online store Amazon.

Auction sites (ie eBay)

The first step to selling online may be to use an auction site. eBay doubles up as a pre-existing marketplace – people know they can go to eBay’s websites and browse through many different sorts of products.

Marketplaces and 3rd party shops (ie Etsy and Big Cartel)

Etsy is a marketplace in the same way that eBay is – people go there to browse items of all sorts. Rather than having to establish a shop elsewhere, you can take advantage of the fact that people know and trust the Etsy brand and will visit the website.

Big Cartel will give you an online store that you can customise and sell items through. You may pay a commission on any items sold. They are very simple to set up and

Direct sales (ie Yahoo Merchant Solutions)

When you reach a certain size it may be worth considering owning your own store. This may be more expensive but you will save money on paying commission and will have more control over the look and feel of the website and aspects such as SEO.

Subscriptions

Some businesses provide regular content in return for a regular payment. For example, magazines and online courses. Threadless is a T-shirt website with a subscription service.

User Generated Content

Websites and services like Lulu (self-publishing books) and Cafepress (branded cups, bags, t-shirts, etc) allow you to upload words or a design to be turned into a product and sold remotely. You will receive a commission on any sales.

SEO

We gave a brief overview of the basics of SEO including:

  • On-site – header and meta tags, well-written code and navigation
  • Off-site – incoming links

Taking payment

People may be wary of sending money, especially overseas. However, services like PayPal, Google Checkout and WorldPay have an established reputation and will operate like an effective middleman.

Consider also

Online business directories and review websites (ie TripAdvisor)

Mini marketing plan

After the presentation, we split the group into three teams and gave them fictitious businesses to promote via the Internet.

We asked the teams to decide:

  • What they would be selling
  • Who their target audience will be
  • Where they will find their customers
  • What methods they’ll use to take payment

Team 1 – Sweet Nothing/After Dark, a nightclub in Georgetown

The club would sell products at the venue and use the Internet for marketing. They would publicise the website using offline tools (billboards, posters and flyers).

They would also use Facebook and GT Vibes to publicise the club as young people use those websites. The website would link to other similar services, with a view to building a relationship and links to other communities.

Team 2 – Spanish Jumpstart, a company selling Spanish lessons

The service would target students, adults and travellers. They would start a blog to demonstrate their expertise in Spansih lessons and advertise via directories and adverts on social networks.

The business would sell online courses, translation, seminars and video conferencing, taking payment online via PayPal.

This is a good example of taking a core product (Spanish lessons) and repurposing them for selling online.

Team 3 – Magic Touch Craft Shop

The shop would sell jewellery, footwear, belts and accessories.

They would give customers the URL of the website as welll as collecting email addresses and other contact details to keep customers updated with new products.

Potential customers would be contacted via social networks as well as having a shop on eBay.

After teaching the groups how to make websites using HTML and the blogging platform WordPress.com we focused on best practice in terms of design and content in the afternoon session of week three.

I chatted about various aspects of good design and content under several headings and demonstrated some good and bad examples. We then asked the groups to write a blog post on their WordPress sites which mentioned three of the points I raised.

(Before starting I stressed that the following were not ‘rules’ per say, more ‘things to bear in mind’ when setting up and adding content to a website).

Thanks to Adrienne Grubb for the use of a few slides from a previous PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the fold, page hot spots and the Poynter Institute stat on images.

Part 1. Good design

Keep it simple

  • It’s no coincidence that many of the most popular websites, Google, Facebook, Wikipedia etc, are really easy to navigate.
  • On the other hand, if a web user is confused by your site they will just click away.
  • Good: WWF / Bad: The five worst website designs in the world

The Fold

  • A similar concept to a newspaper’s fold, the fold on a web page is the bottom of your web browser when the home page has loaded.
  • But some say the fold is dead. And it will be different in different browsers depending on screen resolutions.
  • However, it’s useful to bear in mind. So it should obviously be clear what your website’s purpose is from what is above the fold.
  • Good: The Guardian / Bad (this website is just bad for a whole lot of reasons): www.belladesoto.us

Page hot spots

  • Various bits of worryingly detailed research into where people look first on web pages has shown slightly different things… rocketface.com / textgoeshere.org.uk / blog.eyetools.net
  • …but all agree that the top left is key.
  • Like the fold, it’s something to bear in mind, so it makes sense to have the title of the website and links to important pages near the top left.
  • Good: Most blogs, including this one, not to blow our own trumpet…

Scannability

  • People scan web pages much more than they would a newspaper or magazine because they can click away in an instant. Useful resource on the topic.
  • This is linked to the 10-second rule. Web users often spend as little as 10 seconds scanning a web page to see if it has anything of interest for them.
  • But you can slow down web users eyes or increase your website’s ‘scannability’ through bold tags, headings, links, bullet points, images.
  • Good: Zopa

Images

  • Images are obviously very important to help you break up text.
  • More scientific proof: a Poynter Institute study in 2004 found that 78% of users will look first at the words on your page first but 22% of users look at the pictures or graphics first. So, you need to cater for both kinds of people.
  • Human faces are good. They gives a site warmth, people can identify with them, they’re instantly recognizable.
  • But images need to be good, eye-catching and complementary to what you’re writing about. A rubbish image will make your website look, er, rubbish.
  • Good: Action Aid/ Bad: A boring web page

Typography

  • The difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts.
  • It’s generally easier to read Sans Serif (Arial/ Helvetica etc) online than Serif (Times New Roman) – and vice versa for print.
  • Sans Serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Tahoma and Verdana.
  • Useful bit of info, including advice on font size.
  • Good: BBC / Bad: New York Times
  • Also, the colour of text should be easily readable. Don’t use yellow text on white, for example, or blue on purple – you won’t be able to see clicked on links.
  • Also avoid using loads of uppercase / exclamation marks. IT’S LIKE SHOUTING!!!

Part 2. Good content

Title and tagline

  • If you want your site to be found it needs to be something relevant to what your site is about.
  • You might also want to try for something catchy and original to mark yourself out from the crowd.
  • Think about using a tagline. A great way to explain what your website is all about.
  • Good (tagline): Save The Children / Bad: Great blog but unless you’re familiar with the phrase you wouldn’t immediately know it was about cool stuff happening in Birmingham.
  • And watch out for.

Headings

  • In newspapers headlines can be clever and cryptic, but online they need to be more relevant and descriptive due to scannability (so users know what your post is about) and Search Engine Optimisation (so your website can be found).
  • Also see.
  • Good: The Guardian/ Bad: Blog post on great tabloid headlines (because they don’t won’t work so well online).

Paragraphs

  • Unless you’re doing a thoughtful blog post you really need to make your point in your first paragraph. Otherwise, users will get bored or confused and click away.
  • People are put off by long paragraphs so try to break up them up into shorter ones.

Links

  • Follow web conventions (different colours, change colour when clicked), otherwise you’ll confuse people.
  • Don’t put click here – this looks bad and doesn’t help Search Engine Optimisation.
  • Links in text are good but don’t overdo it.
  • Many external links will increase traffic to your site due to trackbacks and pingbacks. They will also enhance the credibility of a site.
  • But they need to be relevant – and hopefully good. Otherwise they’ll make you look a bit foolish.
  • Good: Pontus’s blog/ Bad (but because they overdo it): teacherxpress.com

Importance of spelling and grammar

  • If your site has spelling errors and grammatical mistakes it will look very unprofessional and people will click away.
  • It doesn’t take long to check over your work. If you can it’s worth printing to check for mistakes – you’ll spot more errors than on screen. Or get someone else to check your work – a fresh pair of eyes spots more mistakes.
  • Use a spelling and grammar check in Word / Open Office. But make sure you don’t paste straight into a blogging / Content Management System software – put in in Notepad first.

Informal

  • Writing for the web is in general more informal and often more fun than many newspapers, magazines and books. Even on sites focusing on more serious issues.
  • People use the web for entertainment as well as information. And the best sites and blogs are entertaining as well as informative.

Shorter is better

  • Remember scannability and that it’s actually harder to read on a computer screen. People read around 25% slower online compared to books, magazines and newspapers.
  • So shorter is better.

Engage

  • It’s well worth thinking about how users can interact with your site. This will give them more ownership of the site and give them more reasons to come back.
  • Blogs are great at this because they allow people to comment. And if you link to other blogs they will get trackbacks – and vice versa – so more traffic.
  • Other ways you could do this include creating a mailing list or a forum or getting visitors to vote on something using a poll.

More useful links:

The flash animation course was a precursor to the main web skills course which was taught as a week long ‘slab’ to a select few students.

The high intensity four-day course which was broken down into:

  • Day 1: Introduction to the flash interface and familiarisation with keyframes (simple facial animation)
  • Day 2: Lip-synching and introduction to tweens
  • Day 3: Walk cycles, advanced walk cycles, and motion guides
  • Day 4: One-day assignment: Create a short animation of a person walking up to a car, getting in and driving off.

Day 1 morning – introduction to the interface:

The morning section took the form of a lecture that introduced the main tools and elements in the flash interface, these include:

  • The stage
  • The toolbar, which included:
    • The selection tool
    • The free transform tool
    • The pencil tool
    • The line tool
    • The rectangle/oval/polystar tool
    • The paintbrush tool
    • The paintbucket tool
    • The inkbottle tool
    • The magnifying glass tool
    • The contextual menu
  • The properties bar
  • The library
  • Colour swatches
  • The timeline

Day 1 afternoon – familiarisation with keyframes and the timeline:

The afternoon was a more hands-on period where I got students to explore simple animation with pre-prepared artwork. First importing it into Flash, and then converting it to a low size, more animation-friendly format.

The afternoon session was broken down like this:

  • Importing images and trace bitmap
  • Frames and Keyframes
  • Keyboard shortcuts including:
    • Ctrl-C (Copy)
    • Ctrl-X (Cut)
    • Ctrl-V (Paste)
    • Ctrl-Shift-V (Paste in place)
    • Ctrl-Z (Undo)
    • Ctrl-B (Break apart)
    • V (Selection tool)
    • Q (Free transform tool)
    • N (Line tool)
    • k (Paintbucket tool)
  • Symbols
  • Simple animation: switching between different symbol instances between keyframes to create the illusion of movement (like smiling or blinking) using two static frames.

Day 2 to follow soon

Bringing web skills to Guyana

A volunteer project from CYEC (Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council)

Guyana on Flickr