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 eg use of data can refine service delivery; digital can join up disconnected or outdated processes and services.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.

— 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.

On two wheels – a 10 tweet summary of NFP tweetup 22

3 quick points I learned from Google’s Digital Analytics Fundamentals course

Google’s Digital Analytics Fundamentals course started gently, introducing some good overall concepts about measuring objectives, but soon ramped up the difficulty so that experienced users would probably learn something too. Here are three things I’d like to share with my team:

  1. A “bounce” is a session with only one interaction. Bounce visits are assigned a time on page and a visit duration of zero.
  2. Goal conversions can only be counted once per visit. Ecommerce transactions can be counted multiple times per visit
  3. Visitor flow behavior report can show you events as well as page views.

What are the attributes of a shareable idea?

Ideas are powerful. But any power they have has to be realised through people applying them, either in their own thoughts, or in interaction with the world or other people.

So ideas are worthless if they aren’t shared.

I agree with Jesse Stommel when he says that:

Ideas need to connect with other ideas to grow and develop. Ideas can collide unexpectedly and lead to exciting and transformative results.

I don’t think that we should have to mine and labour to unearth a good idea, or to tease it out of some difficult academic prose.

The initial understanding of an idea should be simple. The challenge should be in exploring an idea’s implications, its limitations, its potential, and in applying it.

So what do I think are the attributes of a shareable idea?

A good idea is easy to understand, and portable.

share this quote on twitter

Present your ideas in a concise and intelligible fashion, and in a way that can be easily shared. This will make them more powerful and useful.

Play with your music – Module 5: Air Traffic Remix

For this module in the Play With Your Music course, I’ve been remixing ‘Air traffic’ by Clara Berry and Wooldog. Here’s the original track:

And here’s my remix:

I started by listening through the original mix and picking out some samples I liked.
Because we have access to the master mix, it’s possible to isolate a single voice or instrument.
I’d be interested to learn techniques for doing this sort of sampling where you don’t have the luxury of access to the original mix – ie where you can’t just isolate the instrument you want.

Once I’d identified the samples I wanted to use, I cut them up in Soundation. I made sure that all of my samples were 4 bars long – this made it easier to work with them later.
If they’d been of different lengths, it would have been much harder to coordinate them and use them concurrently.

My next move was to stitch these into a single song. One way of doing this would have been to record the music “live”, and simply turn on and off the different channels over the course of the song.
I played around with doing this, but couldn’t find a way in Soundation to record “live”.

But doing things more laboriously meant that I had more control – I could take my time applying effects to the mix, in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do live.

So I copy-pasted the 4 bar samples I’d created, and stirched them together into a full song. There was lots of copy-pasting, and it was a bit fiddly to get things to line up exactly. I found that zooming in very closely, and clicking on exactly the start of the bar, before pasting, helped.
Something I didn’t realise at first was that clicking and dragging a single clip from its top right hand corner loops it over and over. So I should have combined all my cut up 4 bar samples, looped them, and then cut down from there, rather than doing lots of cutting and pasting.

To build up the track, I started with the bass, then added in some piano and then drums.
I wanted the track to start with the rhythm section first, to depart from the original. The intro might be my favourite part of this remix.

Shortly after I’d started adding tracks, I began working on the effects and the positioning in the mix.
I wanted the bass to be prominent but not too loud, and I wanted the backing vocals to feel drifty and ethereal, but also still very present.

I used Distortion, then Equalizer then Compressor on the vocals. The distortion had very high gain and low volume, using distortion type WS1 (no idea what that means). The low end of the equalizer was maxed out; Mid was set to around a third, and High was set to nothing. The Compressor was pretty gentle. Very low attach, low release, high ratio and threshold, and medium gain.

I gave the backing vocals some reverb and delay. I used a cutoff filter on the drums towards the end of the track, to give a descending feel. I then removed the drums completely, before bringing them back at the same volume, and then fading out the volume, allowing me to close the remix with the bass alone, after the piano and then the drums have faded out.

I enjoyed picking out different parts of the original track to use in the remix. I might have liked a bit more raw material to work with – probably I should have used some additional instrumentation from elsewhere – but I quite liked the challenge of working with just the original track. I found it a bit tricky to line up some of the timing – and I’m still not quite sure if the piano is right. I think I’d enjoy working on a remix of a different track – or set of tracks – but I’d want to think it through very carefully. I’d also need to think about how to best take samples from tracks when you don’t have access to the masters. So I may give the final module of Play With Your Music a miss for now, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the course, and found that it’s improved my critical listening ability and given me a taste of using a digital audio workstation and mixing and remixing audio.

What train station arrival boards teach us about top tasks design

Helping your users/customers carry out their most important tasks requires you to prioritise. Helping them achieve their top tasks almost always means sacrificing the ease with which other, less important tasks, can be carried out.

Most people going to a train station are interested in leaving, and aren’t there to meet someone who’s arriving. So we should focus on making “Finding out when my train leaves, and from which platform” as easy as possible; if necessary at the expense of “finding out when and where a train will arrive at this station”.

Hence the relative size of the departure and arrival boards.

departure boards at euston station

Design is a decision about priorities, and as such is generally political. But having the courage to upset some internal stakeholders, you can focus on what’s most important to your customers, and therefore to your organisation and its bottom line.

Play with your music – Module 4: Creative Audio Effects and Automation

This week in Play with your music we’ve been looking at a few basic effects that you can apply to individual tracks of audio while mixing: delay, reverb, EQ and compression. This week’s assignment was to create a version of “Air Traffic” with some effects applied. An optional task was to use this to create a new dynamic mix of air traffic. The optional task sounded like a fun extension so I tackled this too.

Here are some things that I wanted to do with my mix:

  • Keep the piano as the dominant backing for the first verse, as it’s really the only frame for the vocals at this point in the song. I like how the faster, plonky texture goes with the soft flowing vocals. But the for the rest of the song, I wanted to make the soundscape a little less cluttered, and decided that the piano could be removed.
  • Highlight some of the lovely drumming and bass work. I mixed the volume of the bass quite high, and increased it a little for one key passage. For the drums, I used EQ so that the drumming is initially very muted and bassy – a bit like it’s being played next door. I then change the EQ part way through to bring out the rimshot section. (I’m not a drummer, so I could be incorrect here, but it’s the bit that sounds more clickety-clackety). In the final section of the song I set the EQ to gradually change, giving a strange, mechanical swooshy descent.
  • Make the baritone guitar a little smoother. To do this, I applied a low pass filter. I made sure not to put the cutoff of the low pass filter too low – eg 308hz, as it makes the sound too bassy and it loses too much of the attack at the edge of the note. 1477 seemed like a good value, but upon listening to the track in the context of the mix it lacked definition and became a bit insignificant now that I’d dialed back the twang.
  • Strip the drums down for all but the section where I want to highlight them. So i applied a low pass filter with a very low cutoff.
  • Make the steel guitar more shimmery. So I put some reverb on it, with a a fair amount of wet signal.
  • Change the lead vocals somehow. I love the solitary vocals and piano in the first verse, so I didn’t really feel any need to change anything here. But for the sake of experimentation, I wanted to see if I could make the vocals more ethereal, or give them more presence somehow. I started off by applying a very small delay. When set to under 30ms, this just made the sound feel a bit wider, rather than adding distinct or overlapping voices. I settled on a slightly longer delay time, keeping it about the same for both channels. I wanted the final line of the song to be free from reverb, so I used the automation setting in Soundation to drop the wet signal for the very last line. Having played around with this for a while, on listening through I decided that actually the extra lead vocals didn’t work so well and I got rid of this effect.
  • Give the backing vocals a bit more presence. I added some compressor to do this.
    Along the way I found a few artifacts or clicks in the original wav files. It didn’t seem like I could directly edit the audio files that made up each track, so instead I went in and dropped the volume on the relevant track to nothing for the split second where the distracting noise appeared. (I used Soundation’s automation setting here, as shown below). This took a bit of work soloing each instrument to check which track needed fixing.

    removing artifacts in soundation

    For anyone else working on this mix, I found artifacts on the following tracks and locations: bar 27 on the bass track (2 clicks), bar 28 in EFX (I’d muted this track anyway), bar 34 and 39 bass, bar 40 backing vocals, bar 42 in the steel guitar, bar 46 lead vocals, bar 56 on the steel guitar, bar 68 bass, bar 73 bass.

    What was my overall experience of adding effects to this song? Overall I found that effects were a bit unnecessary, to be honest. I enjoyed being able to highlight the bass and drums, but that was mainly down to volume and EQ rather than anything else. I also enjoyed using compression to bring a bit more prominence to the backing vocals. But I probably enjoyed using the pan and volume settings in last week’s static mix more, as it felt like I was honing in on the best elements of an existing expression, rather than trying to put Christmas lights onto an already beautiful tree.

    I think that in some cases effects can sound really cool – I’m particularly looking forward to playing around with an electric guitar in a digital audio workstation – but in other cases they might be an unhelpful veneer. In this track it felt that a lot of the time effects were cluttering or obscuring. Maybe that’s more to do with my skill in employing them than their utility in general. From this week’s module I’ve gained initial basic understanding of effects, and I’m looking forward to being able to learn when and how best to use effects in the future.

Some user experience information streams I’ve subscribed to today

Today I’ve spent some time reviewing which RSS feeds I subscribe to. I’ve decided that I’m missing out on user experience material. So I’ve been hunting out some streams of UX inspiration and ideas.

I’ve added the following feeds to my RSS subscriptions, and will be reviewing their usefulness over the next couple of months:

  • Smashing Magazine UX design category
    Feed address:
  • UX Magazine
    Feed address: feed://
    I’m slightly wary of this one – will the content just be stripped down teasers for paid material? Will the focus be too long-form and specific for my needs?
  • Gizmodo’s user experience tag
    Feed address:
    This one was a little harder to find the RSS feed for. I didn’t have to do any filtering like I’ve done with other RSS feeds, but I did need to manually work out the URL. I followed this guidance to generate the URL I needed – you just need to put /rss at the end of the tag’s URL.
  • UI Patterns
    Feed address:
    UI design patterns are standard solutions to common design problems. This site discusses them and also collates examples.
  • Elements of design
    Feed address:
    A showcase of different design patterns. The RSS feed itself shows latest additions to the example gallery.