Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Value of Responsiveness in Business

Just finished listening to Google's third live online webmaster chat!, where I had the chance to ask questions, and vote for other questions that I wanted to hear addressed.

In addition to the questions and answers where a few presentations, including one by John Mueller, who addressed the "10 Most Popular Myths about Google as Voted by Googlers." The presentation, and audio from the Webmaster Chat will likely be online within a couple of days.

The great thing about this presentation/chat from Google is that it is happening at all. Giving people a chance to ask questions, and showing that you are concerned with making sure that you answer the ones that you can (without giving away any trade secrets) is a sign that you care about your business and how it is perceived by others.

Nice job, Google. Thanks.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Semiotics for Beginners

As much as we all enjoy using different applications on the internet, there's no denying that presently the primary use of the world wide web seems to be for giving and receiving information (depending upon whether you're the author of a page or its visitor).

When you create a page and decide what words to use, what pictures to include, which icons will hold place in your navigation scheme, you've entered a world of communication with a wide range of people.

Imagine all the potential visitors to your site, and think about how you can communicate with them as effectively as possible. Remember that there will be people of different sizes, shapes, races, cultures, genders, nationalities, economic situations, abilities, and educational levels.

You definitely have to make some decisions regarding who your target audience is going to be for your pages. Is it enough to design a page so that it looks the same, or very similar in both Firefox, and Internet Explorer? Should you take steps so that your site is accessible to people who have visual limiations?

And just what do colors mean to people from other cultures? Do they have significance from one culture to another? Do certain choices of words and phrases have different meanings based upon culture, or education level, or gender?

We spend a lot of time and effort learning about usability, and how to make a web page a good experience for visitors. We also expend energy on trying to build web pages based upon keywords and phrases that we hope people will use to find the information that we include on our pages. Yet how much effort do we spend on learning about our language and pictures and icons, and how people interpret them?

Ferdinand de Saussure had this to say on the study of signs:

It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeƮon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge.

An excellent resource to learn more about semiotics can be found at Semiotics for Beginners

Some of that site becomes technical really quickly, and some of it delves more into history than it should to make it light reading. But the sections that look at modern advertisements and analyze them are priceless.

I especially enjoyed the page about Rhetorical Tropes, or the art of persuasion. These include metaphors, metonyms, synecdoche, and irony. If you can get a good grasp of what those mean, it might just change the way you write (and choose pictures and icons) significantly.

And a better understanding of how you are writing might just help you target better what you are writing for your chosen audience.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wherein Happiness?

I wrote the following words in this blog almost six years ago in my first post here. It's hard to believe that much time has gone past.

Personal achievement, success, and growth are all relative terms. There will likely always be ones richer than you. Many will possess more power and hold more sway in the community. Happiness comes from doing the best that you can, and from being able to provide for, and hold close those whose friendship and love you value.

I've seen successes and failures during that time, both personally and professionally. I think it's good to look back, and to consider carefully the choices you've made, to learn from them and to grow.

Sometimes finding happiness means making some difficult choices. Sometimes you may make the wrong choice. Recognizing that you have is part of growth, too.

So what do you do once that happens?

Friday, October 17, 2008

When Work isn't Work

I was standing in line at Kinkos recently, and fell prey to impulse shopping, picking up a copy of the book The 4-Hour Work Week. I had heard about the book before, and I started skimming through some of the pages, and it seemed pretty well written.

But one of the pieces of advice that I've held to closely over the years, find work that you love, runs against one of the basic assumptions behind the book - that work is something that is separate from the rest of your life, and something that should be avoided or limited as much as possible.

Michael Cage, in What I hate about the 4-hour work week, explores that thought even further. As Michael notes:

The world doesn't need any more people selling crap so they can live a playboy's life.

It needs people who are committed and passionate about who they are and what impact they want to be having. People for whom each day is an opportunity to do what they love, experience the ripples flowing from their efforts, and be well rewarded for it.

What is that thing that, if you were to choose to do it ... fully and without compromise ... would stir your soul?

Work can be difficult, it can be challenging, it can be frustrating sometimes. But if it's what you are passionate about, then those things don't matter.

Back in the Saddle

It's been a while since I've written something here, but I've been missing writing about small business.

I've considered starting a new domain, and beginning from scratch to focus mainly upon small business, and I may still do that - I've found that I really enjoy using Word Press - but I think I may try a few posts here, and see what happens first.

I've been pointed to a lot of business practices lately that are less than stellar, and I may start using this blog to point some of those out. Practices like greenwashing really need a closer look.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Indiana Jones and the Desecration of the Temple of Doom

A friend was a archeologist, until he got tired of rainy days digging through mud and dirt making cultural importance assessments on the sites of future roadways and construction projects.

He supposedly found some interesting things in his digs, but nothing quite like the what you see in the Indiana Jones movies. When antiquities collectors "find" artifacts from the past, and send them to dealers, who sell them to collectors, there are a whole range of questions to ask. These include:
  • Who "owns" the works in question?

  • What laws are in place to protect that ownership, and what is the potential risk in violating those laws?

  • What international impacts can the movement of such treasures have upon political relationships between countries?

Reasononline takes a careful look at the subject in Reason: Ancient Treasures for Sale: Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?

Interesting classification of three different groups involved in the debate:

  • Academics, dealers, and collectors who want cultural artifacts to be able to move around the globe in a regulated manner, so that they can be shared by people and learned about with the exposure.

  • National officials and academics who believe that these cultural artifacts are tied to the place where they were found and are part of the history and identity of that culture.

  • Archeologists and historians who believe that such cultural treasures are only part of the picture, and should be left where they are, so that they can be studied in context, and tell us about the past.

If you where hiking along in the local state park, and you found something of potentially historical significance, would you:

  • Take it home with you, and display it on your mantle?

  • Take it, and contact your local historical society, or a government official?

  • Leave it where it is, make a note of the location, and contact your local historical society or a government official?

Would it make a difference if it were an arrowhead, a saber from the civil war era, a piece of colonial pottery, or something else?

Another friend recently had me helping inventory some of the contents of an antique shop, where the owner had past away, and the contents of the shop needed to be sold. Some of the items in the shop were more artifact than antique. It was amazing seeing works produced 500 or more years ago. The attraction to sharing these pieces of work is understandable. It would be great to share them with as many people as possible.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

With an opening like this, I was predisposed to enjoying the paper that went along with it:

It is with some regret that I submit this thesis for storage in Avery Library. It is a dingy underground hole that refuses to lend the books, even though it is generally impossible to make photocopies with the broken copy machines. Perhaps that doesn't matter, since so many of the books cannot be found after checking the three separate places where they "normally" might be and spending an inordinate amount of time checking with the librarian. It has been nothing but a source of irritation, aggravation, and general frustration. I hope that nobody every finds it necessary to descend into that pit in search of my work. Perhaps one day Columbia will be enlightened enough to digitally archive theses and dissertations, making them available online.

I wasn't disappointed. It is a thoughtful and entertaining look at how people interact with the social places that surround them, and the redevelopment of Times Square in New York City - Visual Order in Times Square: The Social Regulation of Urban Space (pdf).