What Graspop 2014’s running order teaches us about user needs and being responsive

When attending a music festival, your most important decisions relate to which bands to see, and when and where they are playing.*

You want to know which bands clash with each other; you want to be able to work out how long you can spend checking out a new band before leaving to get to the front in time for a band you know you’re going to enjoy.

I love planning activities within constraints to maximise my enjoyment, so I was excited to see the Graspop Metal Meeting 2014 running order announced.

But I was soon disappointed, as I downloaded the document and tried to start planning which bands to see.

In looking at this document I made two basic visual assumptions:

  1. As we go down the page, the hour of day increases.
  2. Bands on the same horizontal level are playing at the same time.

This guide went against both of these assumptions:

  1. As we go further down the page, as a general rule the hour does increase. But each stage goes at its own pace, so it’s hard to compare between stages.

    meshuggah and megadeth timing old graspop 2014 running order

    Meshuggah are further down than Megadeth, but go on stage nearly 3 hours earlier.

  2. Bands on the same horizontal level are often playing at very different times.

    sabaton and unida timing old graspop 2014 running order

    On first glance it looks like Unida and Sabaton are playing at the same time. But if you look at the times, Sabaton actually starts 2.5 hours after Unida has finished. Plenty of time to see both.

Okay, so things weren’t looking great. I started thinking about making my own spreadsheet, but I thought I’d give the festival the benefit of the doubt and get in touch:

And in response they made a new version of the running order, and have updated their website with this new version:

The extent to which the document has changed underlines just how hard it was to use before.

We can now compare Meshuggah and Megadeth much more easily:

graspop 2014 improved running order meshuggah megadeth

And we can see that Unida play their set a long time before Sabaton:

new and improved graspop 2014 running order

The new running order is so much easier to use:

  • Easier to understand which bands are playing at a given time: all stages follow the same time axis.
  • Easier to understand the overall shape of the day across the different stages.
  • Colour coding helps distinguish between different stages when scanning down the page.
  • Easier to read because the background is white.

I think there are a few lessons here:

  • Usability is important. Some documents exist almost exclusively to be used. When designing them, we should try to understand how people will make use of them. User testing before launching a product is the safest way to do this, otherwise you risk the product failing to serve its purpose because you miss something important. If everyone attending Graspop in a couple of months was trying to use the old running order, I think there’d be a lot of confusion and frustration.
  • Listening is important. Graspop could easily have ignored my tweet and my point, but instead they chose to engage with it. Credit to them for being open to that.
  • Responsiveness is important. The festival was ready to act on what I said, and pushed out a new version of the running order in less than 4 working hours after I posted my message. If you don’t get it right the first time, being ready to respond and improve things is a pretty close second. Well done Graspop!

* Other important decisions include where to camp, who to befriend, where to obtain provisions, and whether to risk crowdsurfing or a wall of death. But I’m not going to talk about these things here.

Delivering Digital Transformation – How charity IT and digital teams can work together effectively

Some key points of interest that I gleaned from Charity Comms” Digital transformation: How to get it right in your organisation

The division of work between digital and IT is often unclear

In most organisations, the division of responsibility between IT and digital is:
– IT support internal infrastructure.
– Digital support externally-facing initiatives. eg social media, web and CMS, SEO and PPC, online giving.

But often the scope of digital has not been clearly defined.

As digital has grown beyond marketing and communications and started to manage emerging projects (eg hosting, mobile, other digital services (eg Elefriends), database systems, and (for some) service transformation and data-driven initiatives), this can cause confusion of roles.

Digital teams should remember that IT teams are useful to them

IT teams often hold useful resources – eg developers and expertise with procurement (and processes? – eg agile).

How to make the case for digital in your organisation: think operationally

You need to make the case for change, and you need to explain what digital can do for the organisation.

Take up the discussion at senior level.
Focus on user needs.

(Don’t focus on faults with underlying legacy systems or structures, and don’t just take up the discussion with IT)

If a lack of formal structure or governance is an obstacle to change, set up that structure.

Digital is often thought of as just concerned with fundraising and campaigns. But by thinking operationally you can go beyond income generation and move into efficiency gains and potentially cost savings. eg use of data can refine service delivery; digital can join up disconnected or outdated processes and services.

So identify what issues are stopping your organisation from operating effectively, and identify where digital can play a role in joining up processes and reducing reliance on manual activities.

Look beyond your organisation for inspiration, and articulate your results in the operational language of the rest of the organisation. Think about proving your claims, and about how you will provide evidence of success.

2014: The Year People Continued Caring about MOOCs

The Chronicle of Higher Education asks if 2014 is the year that the media stopped caring about MOOCs (massive open online courses).

Rather than extrapolating from a single incident, as the Chronicle piece does, Stephen Downes has found media activity on MOOCs be more stable.

The chronicle piece wonders: “what is 2014? The year that MOOCs ceased to be interesting—at least to anybody not working on them directly?” I think this suggestion risks conflating media interest with public interest. Judging by the number of searches for this term, public interest in MOOCs continues to rise.

a graph from google trends showing the relative number of searches for some mooc-related search terms

Some other suggestions from the search data:

  • The number of searches for e learning continues to slowly increase.
  • The recent emergence of MOOCs, and interest in MOOCs, does not coincide with a fall in searches for online learning.
  • More people are searching about online learning than MOOCs.
  • More people are searching for specific providers than are searching for MOOCs or elearning. Are people therefore more interested in the product than the platform? This would suggest that the debate about MOOCs and/versus online learning is less important to most people than accessing a platform that provides something useful.
  • Udacity made a strong start, but were soon overtaken by coursera.
  • About 5 times as many people search for coursera as search for udacity.

Can I embed tweets in emails? No, because of JavaScript and iframes

A tweet is an individual message posted by someone inside the twitter social media platform. An embeddable tweet is a version of this message that can be copied and used outside twitter. Embedding tweets is a great feature, allowing conversations and ideas to be spread beyond twitter’s walls, and is great for curation and analysis.

But the way that twitter have constructed this feature means that you can’t embed tweets in emails.

Why is this? You can’t display embedded tweets in emails because embedded tweets require:

  1. JavaScript
  2. iframes

Both of these features are blocked by most email clients for very sensible security reasons.

So an embedded tweet that should look something like this:

… ends up looking like this instead:

#ed473 this is really thought-provoking. @anildash on gender privilege & social networks: The Year I Didn't RT Men. https://t.co/qZXGCdv545

— Bonnie Stewart (@bonstewart) February 13, 2014

This isn’t nearly as useful or pretty.

So what can I do instead if I want to embed a tweet in an email?

Lots of people simply share tweets by taking a screenshot of the message, and then pasting it to wherever is needed – eg into a powerpoint presentation.
This solution could work in the context of sending an email: take a screenshot of the tweet you’re interested in, trim to size, upload somewhere, and add in to your email. For extra credit, make the image a hyperlink to the original tweet.

This solution isn’t ideal – it’s manual, laborious, and cannot be easily automated. The information about the tweet will become outdated as more people share or retweet it, or reply to it. Worse, it’s not possible to actually interact with the tweet in this setting, nor is this option at all accessible (unless you are very diligent with your alt text).

Okay then, come up with something smarter

I haven’t created anything better, I’m afraid, but here’s one idea to investigate:

If our aim is to take the useful features of embedded tweets – aesthetics and functionality – and to get them into email, I think that Twitter’s “Do you know…” emails could help:

a screenshot of an automated email from twitter suggesting some accounts I might want to follow

You could take the inline HTML from these emails (I’ve copied the HTML code here) and use them to style up embedded tweets in an HTML email. You’d need to check in with twitter’s brand policies though, as this may not be within their terms of use.