Play with Your Music – Module 1: Analyse your favourite tune and share it

I’m currently taking a 6-week open online course in mixing and remixing music, called Play With Your Music. The first’s week assignment is to describe the sonic landscape of a track I like.

Why I’ve chosen this track: Alcest is one of my favourite bands, if not my favourite. Alcest’s music sounds graceful, elegiac and transcendent. It feels like it’s coming from a context beyond every-day worries, concerns and feelings.

I’ve chosen a track from Alcest’s second album, Écailles de lune, called Sur l’océan couleur de fer. I particularly like its sorrowful and slightly mysterious lyrics (they work better in French, but I’ve pasted a translation below). I think the track is about 30% longer than it needs to be, but I still really like it.


On The Iron-Coloured Ocean

On the iron-coloured ocean
Cried an immense choir
And those long screams whose insanity
Seem to pierce through Hell

And then death and silence,
Rising just like a black wall
…Sometimes, in the distance, could be seen
A swaying fire

Translation from lyrics translate.

The instruments and their location in the mix:

The main instrument is a slightly shimmering, mellow clean, electric guitar, played gently.

Just behind it in the mix sit the distant, tranquil, male vocals; wavering slightly but with some lovely sustain and slight vibrato on these longer notes.

There are other instruments too – a smooth, firm and unobtrusive bass guitar part in the centre of the mix, additional guitar and vocal parts in left and right channels, vocal harmonies, an acoustic guitar, backing vocals later and a symbol – but the track is defined by this interplay of vocal and guitar over the bass. The parts where the guitar climbs up one channel, and the vocals climb up another, and the two intertwine, are particularly pretty.

I enjoyed this exercise, and it’s helped me to be more attentive to what I’m listening to. I hadn’t noticed the acoustic guitar that is used towards the end of the track, for example.

Social Action – a 10-tweet summary of NFP tweetup 20

How to embed a flickr tag slideshow on your website

If you have a set of photos uploaded to flickr, all with a certain tag, here’s how to display them in a slideshow on your website:

The steps outlined in the video are:

  1. Head over to flickr.
  2. Go to your photostream, and click on one of your photos that you’ve tagged with the tag you want to display.
  3. Scroll down, then click on the tag you want to display in a slideshow – eg dailycreate.
  4. Manually add “show/” to the end of the URL (without the quotation marks).
    So in my case, the URL I want is:
  5. Go to this link, which will load up a slideshow.
  6. Click on ‘Share’ at the top right, then click on ‘Customise this HTML’.
  7. Specify the width and height options if you want to, then copy and paste your code onto your website.

How to add a twitter feed to your wordpress site

Summary: Get twitter to generate some HTML that you copy-paste to a widget on your WordPress site.

Here are the steps in more detail:

1) Head over to twitter and generate a personalised HTML code

Navigate to twitter, and log in. Then click on the cog at the top right of the screen, then settings, widgets, then ‘create widget’. (As a shortcut, here is the direct link to the twitter widget page)

2) Which widget type should I choose?

Each tweet feed looks very similar, and is embedded into your site in the same way, but they display different information:

  • User timeline – displays your tweets. You can choose whether or not to include replies.
  • Favorites – Displays all the tweets favourited by a chosen account. Doesn’t have to be your own account.
  • A list – Displays all the tweets by members of one of your twitter lists.
  • A search feed – displays tweets matching a search term. This is where you can display hashtags. Eg (remove the quotation marks) “#ds106” or “digital communications”. You can also do fancier searches using boolean terms – eg on my digital storytelling site I have a stream that searches for “martinlugton and #ds106” to highlight my ds106 tweets.

3) Click ‘create widget’, then copy the HTML code to your WordPress page and put it in a widget.

Go to the widgets area of your WordPress admin backend.Grab a widget of the type ‘text’ and drag it to the appropriate widget. (A widget is just an area of your page. Each theme has different widgets, so take a minute to work out where exactly you want to place yours.)The width automatically adjusts to the width of the area (div) you place it in.

4) The result should look something like this:

two examples of a twitter timeline widget

Agile innovation in income generation for charities

How to create better confirm and reject popups

Computers often ask us to confirm our intentions. Asking ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ is a useful way to reduce input errors, but the way this question is posed is inconsistent. We could improve the user experience – and reduce errors – by making it more consistent.

Here are a couple of current inconsistencies that introduce unnecessary mental overhead, and making error prevention less effective:

Positioning of ‘confirm’ and ‘do not confirm’ options

When deleting a tweet in Hootsuite, the placement of the ‘confirm’ button is on the left; in twitter it’s on the right:

the confirm / reject delete tweet popup in hootsuite

twitter delete tweet - confirm or reject

Note that both highlight the user’s probable intended action – ‘confirm deletion’.

Use of highlighting to show the user’s probable intended action

Not everywhere uses highlighting:

vertical response confirm reject deletion message

How could we improve our popup messages to make them more consistent and useful?

Some rules for creating better confirm and reject  popups

  • Place the ‘confirm’ option on the right and the ‘do not confirm’ option on the left.
  • Make your option buttons descriptive so that it’s very clear what each option entails.
    Avoid using the generic ‘Okay’ – instead, use imperatives like ‘Delete’.
  • Highlight the action the user probably intended to take.
  • If the user is about to do something potentially dangerous, grey out the ‘confirm’ option for a couple of seconds.
    Additional popups are annoying. If you really need to make someone wait to read a message – eg if you want them to confirm running a file they downloaded from the internet – grey out the ‘confirm’ option for a couple of seconds like Firefox does:

firefox popup - confirm or reject file save or open


Filtering RSS feeds for a more useful inbound content stream

Noise is the price we pay for volume and diversity of content.
I’m hopeful that we can reap the rewards of the wealth of information around us, while minimising the price way pay having to filter through it to get to the good stuff.

I’m interested in the task of focusing on relevant, helpful material and reducing the mental overhead of filtering out irrelevant material. In this post I look at one way to bring a bit of order and clarity to your RSS feed subscriptions, so that they are more focused and useful.

To do this, we use Yahoo Pipes – an online tool that can manipulate information from around the web, and serve it to you in a range of formats.

You can make  your own pipes, and so create your own processes for gathering and manipulating information and content.

Each pipe takes an input – or a range of inputs – does stuff with it – in some sort of sequence – and then presents an output.

Data flows through pipes, gets processed appropriately at different points, and goes down to the output. You can then do stuff with this output – in our case we want to subscribe to it as an RSS feed.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how we can use yahoo pipes to filter content:

Filtering the SEOmoz feed, so that I only see Whiteboard Fridays material

One very important area of digital change is SEO.

Watching SEOmoz’s weekly Whiteboard Friday video is a great way to keep up-to-date with best practice, and to see experts figure out the implications of any changes in the search landscape.

I’m not a dedicated SEO professional, though, so I don’t really have time to read all the posts on SEOmoz. But I do want to keep up with Whiteboard Fridays.The SEOmoz RSS feed doesn’t know this, of course, so it just serves me all the content produced on the site.

Ideally I’d be able to filter this RSS feed, so that I just get my weekly delivery of Whiteboard Friday and nothing else. This is super-easy to do with Pipes:

In the Pipe editor, click on the ‘Sources’ heading, then drag ‘Fetch Feed’ into the editing area.

This is where we specify the RSS feed we want to filter. In this case we paste in

Now it’s time to add in a filter, and set it to only let through Whiteboard Fridays posts. Under the ‘Operators’ heading, grab the ‘Filter’ module.

Connect the output of ‘Fetch Feed’ to the this module. (Connect modules by dragging from the circle at the bottom of one (its output) to the circle at the top of another (its input). This creates a pipe. Make sure that the output from your final process is linked up to the output!)

Now it’s time to specify the filter we want. This looks a little intimidating at first, but if you click on the left-hand column Yahoo Pipes makes some suggestions. In this case we want to the filter to only allow through content whose title contains ‘whiteboard friday’.

yahoo pipes being used to filter whiteboard fridays

Have a look at this pipe and make a copy of your own – or remix it!

You can add multiple rules for each filter, which can give you lots of power. You could, for example, filter the NHS Choices Behind the Headlines feed so that you see material about ‘cancer’ or ‘dementia’ but nothing else.

You can filter by more than item.title. You can also filter by item.description, which seems to be the item’s content, or at least an excerpt.

Filtering the Telegraph Comment feed so that it just displays editorial content

I’m a leftie Guardian reader, but I want to make sure that I’m presented with a range of different views so that my ideas aren’t just informed by one way of thinking. It’s good practice to see different sides of an argument, to judge for oneself which is better, lest we fall into sloppy thinking. (I used to be an Economist subscriber, but keeping up with the volume of content it produced was punishing.)

I don’t want to read all the Comment pieces in the Telegraph, though. I’d rather just read the editorial. The naming convention on the Telegraph’s Comment feed seems to be that editorials are written by the author ‘Telegraph View’. So I set up a filter to only let through this content:

yahoo pipes filtering the telegraph comment feed to only display editorial content


Head over to yahoo pipes to see this pipe in action.

Don’t kill the noise

A word of caution: you need noise in your life. Noise is new, unknown, challenging, thought-expanding. Processing it takes effort, and can be uncomfortable, but it has rewards. So don’t filter it out entirely. (Indeed, the whole point of the Telegraph filter is to increase the ideological noise in my life)

But sometimes you know what you want from a given RSS feed, and you don’t want to see anything beyond that. Be in control of the noise – this is the time to filter. Save you brainpower for filtering through the noise in areas where you’d like to expand your knowledge and understanding beyond what you currently think you need to know.

What is gamification and how might it be useful for charities?

Gamify This! – NFP Tweetup 18, 13 March 2013. I’ve picked 10 or so tweets to summarise the evening, and added in some of my own notes.

  1. Gamification is making an activity more like a game.

    The definition of ‘game’ used here encompasses rewards, external markers of success, and (often) competition; but it also incorporates play, fun and collaboration.

  2. Gamification defined – taking something that isn’t usually a game, but applying game principles #nfptweetup
  3. Don’t just ‘gamify’ – you need a goal and to tailor towards it. Reward the behaviours you want to encourage; don’t go half-baked #nfptweetup
  4. #nfptweetup Why do gamification? For fun. To solve problems. To reward people & take advantage of competitive behaviour
  5. A recommended book on gamification (@david_whitney, on the panel, made the original recommendation):
  6. Yes a damn fine book RT @aarora17: This is the book #nfptweetup > Gamestorming:Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers+Changemakers
  7. Some examples of gamification

  8. Cancer Research UK’s Dryathalon:

    Dryathalon – Not drinking for a month, to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

    Based on 12 months of research and preparation.

    “Men are willing to support a charity as long as it is low involvement, derives personal benefit, and facilitates banter with friends.”

  9. 41% more was raised by people who signed up for the gamification, as opposed to those who only signed up for JustGiving accounts. (Aside: how much of this difference would we expect to see through normal stewardship?)

    They used the JustGiving API to grab data each day for the overall leader board.

  10. They also used data from the API to send each dryathlete an email when they hit certain fundraising targets. Participants were sent a badge signifying the milestone. Messages thanked them for their support, and told them about the cause they were contributing to. (We don’t yet know the extent to which the cause message appealed to people, or if they were just interested in the personal/competitive milestone.) Open rates for these emails were 60%.

    Impressive results, reaching a new audience. 80% of followers of the dryathalon Facebook page do not follow Cancer Research UK on any other platform.

  11. Dryathlon- I take my hat off to you. New audience of young males; £4m raised; merging the fun competition with serious messaging #nfptweetup
  12. I wonder the extent to which this could lead to longer-run behavioral change, or sustained engagement with the charity.

  13. Citizen Science

    Crowdsourcing simpler elements of scientific work. One example of citizen science is Cell Slider, also from Cancer Research UK.

    I’ve seen similar projects with protein folding – eg fold it: solve puzzles for science – and with distributed computing (although projects like World Community Grid and SETI@home don’t have an active game element to them – they’re just about donating your computer’s processing power. You do get feedback on your contribution, though.)
  14. Can take CRUK scientists up to 18 months to classify cells – open up the data & putting in a game to analyse data stream #nfptweetup
  15. Gamification doesn’t require computers

  16. An old school charity “gamification” which occurred to me is blood donor awards. Remember my nan being chuffed she got silver! #nfptweetup
  17. Some challenges faced by gamification

    How do you keep people interested in a sustainable way? @b33god cited Foursquare’s recent traffic plateau here.
    Could competitiveness demotivate some people?
    Could gamification appear crass or insensitive for some causes?

    Breakout session – Could we communicate a short public health message through gamification?

    Some ideas:

    You could have a leader board for spreading the message, and track the number of people reached by the entire campaign for a more collaborative focus.
    You could award badges for the top participants in a given time period.
    You could crowdsource content generation and rating.

    Lifestyle change seems like a good target for gamification’s incentive structures. The ability to have emotional feedback, a system for tracking progress (and required tasks?), as well as sharing with peers for support, combine nicely.

    Adding a layer of personal, tangible reward to quitting smoking sounds like a great idea, for example:
  18. “Kickit a good way of linking goals with money saved towards treating yourself to eg an iPad” #nfptweetup
  19. The power of games, rather than gamification

Your instincts can only take you so far, so let data take the next step

Alternative title: “What ear wax taught me about being a digital communicator”.

Being creative and having lots of different ideas is fantastic. But as a digital communicator this is not the end of your job. You can relentlessly use data and evidence to improve your work and focus in on the best ideas. Or, in the case of Google Adwords, you can let an algorithm do this for you.

When writing ad copy for pay-per click adverts, it can be impossible to predict which particular variant of a message will be most effective. When writing ad copy on information on ear wax, the following adverts were all very similar, but there was a big variation in clickthrough rates. This allowed Google to hone in on the most effective ad.

Who would have known that “Tips and info on ear wax / Access our expert information / on ear wax and other conditions” (3.54% clickthroughs) would be so much more effective than “Tips on ear wax / Access our expert information /on ear wax and other conditions.” (1.72% clickthroughs)? Your instincts can set up the environment for success; analytics help you focus in and achieve it.

a selection of ppc adverts for information on ear wax

Similarly, for our marathon adverts, my main idea was to produce three main types of copy: one focusing around the challenge itself, another focusing around our organisation’s mission, and another focusing on the attraction of guaranteed places. The data triangulated the best theme and the best wording.

So it pays to be open, to experiment with a range of options, and to go with evidence of what actually works. The eventual success of the London tube map (after someone decided to actually test with users!) is testament to the importance of being humble and testing new ideas.

Creativity, breadth and instincts are important for digital communicators. Take things further by embracing the unknown and using evidence to help you understand things that your instincts can’t handle.

Do any of you have good examples of when data has taken you further than instincts alone could manage? Any good A/B testing stories? Anything counter-intuitive?