Welcome to the World, Baby WAF

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In my first effort as a web writer/designer, I have created a website for the JoAnne Boyle World Affairs Forum (WAF), an organization which I am a part of at Seton Hill University.  The site was completed as part of the class, EL236 Writing for the Internet.

As a practical junction to my website, I also drafted a set of instructions, which in theory, would be used by another WAF member to maintain, update, and add to the site.

I coded in basic HTML and CSS in Microsoft NotePad, but I aimed for the highest standard of professional design, organization and writing that my skills could allow.  All questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome!

The Project:

My work as part of the course was, in part, a semester-long preparation for creating the WAF website. I was challenged to learn different skills and perspectives; in a way, then, I was asked to try on several different "hats," the hat of "copy writer," "internet programmer," "cultural analyst," "creative writer," "usability tester" and "usability test administrator."  My site, then, should not only be viewed as an informational/corporate website about WAF, but as a first exhibition of all the elements necessary for effective, albeit simplistic, web communication.

The Process:

In making both the WAF website and the maintenance instructions, I discovered that user-testing, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor interaction was essential. 

Usability testing was a topic we covered as part of the course; we read about it, discussed its practices and uses, acted as a tester and designed, administered, and reviewed our own usability test.  But during the actual design and implication of my project (and my classmate's projects), the benefits of user testing came to fruition. We were required to submit a formal Alpha Release and Beta Release, a respective "early" and "late" rough draft, and the subsequent Alpha testing and Beta Testing were much-needed benchmarks in what developed into a long succession of small steps.  

My blogging doesn't cover the entire spectrum of interaction I had, though.  In class, I was able to get informal "tests" and reactions from classmates Chelsea, Anne, and Aero. Outside of class I tested two different "cold" users, on both my site and my instructions.  

From this process of interaction, both formal and informal, I made some significant changes.

Based on user's responses in Alpha testing, I:

  •   Added footer information: the linked SHU logo and SHU information
  • "Texturized" the black sidebar to add visual interest
  • Added information to the "Events" page about attending events; who can attend, advertising, and cost

Users also suggested adding more pictures; I considered this, and would have liked to add more pictures of our speakers, but I decided against this given the sensitive nature of their situations.  Some are exiled and some are from countries undergoing political persecution.

Based on user's responses in Beta testing, I:

  • Expanded the WAF history on the
  •  "About WAF" page
  • Added a project "disclaimer" Credited myself as the site's creator and added my contact information in relation to the site (This addition was also made to appease other user's suggestions about adding a vehicle for interaction on the site - like a blog or message board.  Given time and my abilities, I was unable to do anything that extensive.  In the future, perhaps...)
  • Changed the title banner's colors
  •  Expanded my instructions to include HTML examples

On my own, I also:

  • Reorganized the homepage information for clarity
  • Credited all pictures
  • Changed the color of links to match the updated banner

In Summation:

Each class period and each hour at home in which I worked on my site was one small step toward the finished product.  And I didn't even realize it.  Around the point of my Beta Release, I look at my site and realized with surprise that I had nothing left to do (from my point of view, at least; but that's where those all-important testers came in).  I was baffled that I had accomplished that much; where, it the middle of checking for closed tags and uploading graphics with the just right color, did I finish my site?   Looking back, I see now that it was in these small moves.

And this process is something I can apply to any future project, website or otherwise; s very smooth process of proposal, draft, testing, revision, re-testing, revision.  However, as a course project, there was a very clear-cut point of "completion" for creating this site. Outside the academic setting, though, I think there is no real "finished" project.  Projects can always be tested, revised, and improved.  Even what I've created here could (possibly) change, grow, revise, and "live" on the internet indefinitely.  Now how about that for a sense of accomplishment? 

Notes:

I would not have been able to complete this project without consulting the work of:

Elizabeth Castro, Creating a Web Page with HTML

Steve Krug, Don't Make me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Crawford Kilian, Writing for the Web 3.0 

Van SEO Design CSS blog, http://www.vanseodesign.com/blog/category/css/

Blogging Portfolio 4: Watching the Process in Action

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It's been a long, tough climb, but I’ve almost reached the top of the Writing for the Internet mountain.  As we entered the final portion of the course, it was more about applying skills than learning skills.  The class spent the better part of the semester learning various types of internet writing, from HTML coding and website content writing, to interactive fiction games and creative hypertext. 

We wrote for the internet.  We read about writing for the internet.  We practiced writing for the internet.  We were tested on writing for the internet. We had others test our work. We talked about our own writing for the internet.  We blogged about writing for the internet.  Finally, we were able to apply internet writing skills in a project of our choice: we were asked to create either an informative hypertext (website), a creative hypertext project, or an interactive fiction game.  I chose to design a website for an on-campus organization at Seton Hill, The JoAnne Boyle World Affairs Forum. 

Our projects, however, began an entirely new series of small-step learning and projects.  We drafted a project proposal, submitted project progress reports, submitted an Alpha Release of our projects, administered Alpha testing, revised, drafted a Beta Release, administered Beta testing, and revised again...And now viola!  We are on the verge of a finished project.  Along the way, we offered advice to one another, both in-class and via blog.

If you're interested in seeing this process in action, see the compilation of blog entries below.  It's not a traditional blogging portfolio, but I think it chronicles the steps of the project completion process nicely, and particularly highlights the importance of student interaction in problem solving. 

Project Progress:

These series of blogs chronicled the progression of my term project.

Progress Report - After submitting my Project Proposal, I blogged about the very early stages of my project.  It wasn't about getting anything coded or written at this point, it was more about brainstorming ideas and mentally mapping my project's path.

Alpha Report - The Alpha Release of my website was a half-completed draft; I blogged about user testing of my Alpha Release, the suggestions I got from it, and the revisions I hoped to make.   

Beta Report - You get the idea: Much like the Alpha Release, the Beta Release was a draft that was user-tested and then revised based on the test results.  However, this draft was at a much more developed stage.  I had a completed product that I had worked to fruition, but needed to hand it over to users to see what steps/changes to make next.

Interaction:

Interaction and problem-solving was vital to the term projects.  The links show comments I made on class mate's blogs to help in their project.

Chelsea's Blog - I try to offer some ideas for expanding her project, and when all else fails...I volunteer to test.

Maddie's Blog - Offering words of encouragement, and of course, volunteering to test.

Andy's Blog - Acting as a tester, I offer some specific suggestions

Aja's Blog - Helping her slove a blackground problem

Reflection:

Expectations - Based on a class discussion, I decided to blog about my expectations going into this class, Writing for the Internet, and what I actually got out of the experience

 

Writing for the Internet: Expectations

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Based on today's class discussion, I thought I'd write a little about what I expected from this course and what I discovered from taking it. 

My answer to the question, "Was this course what you expected?"  No! Not by a long shot!  But it might not be what you think; in this case, a course not living up to my expectations was actually a good thing.

When I approached this course, titled "Writing for the Internet," I assumed that it would be, completely and solely, about writing the content of various websites for various users.  I figured we'd incorporate some internet-specific writing styles, organization and tone.  I also assumed we'd work on focusing and tailoring our writing to appeal to various target audiences, or in this case, various target users.

The course did indeed cover these points, but it also covered a lot of other topics.  We discussed and learned the literal writing of the internet, in HTML and CSS code.  My jaw probably dropped in surprise when I first found out we'd be covering this in class; by no stretch of the imagination am I programming savvy (I still don’t think I’d consider myself this).  But the lessons on coding, coupled with the writing and organizational tips made in the Krug text, are probably the most worthwhile pieces of knowledge I’ve gained out of everything we covered, and I've improved (I think!) tremendously in these areas.  These skills will definitely help me in the long-run.

Writing for the Internet also covered types of writing I never knew existed - like interactive fiction and creative hypertext.  We also reviewed the fundamentals of user testing, a little-known but integral part of writing for the internet.  I've learned that writing for the internet and user testing are best used as a pair; you can write for the internet without performing any user testing, but you can't produce your best work without leaving it in the hands (or mouse) of a user. We also touched on topics like chat-speak, appropriate e-mail formatting and the effects of internet networking (pictures & postings on Facebook/MySpace, trolling, Wikipedia).

With all this said, I can now see that I approached this course from a very limited perspective - so limited, in fact, that I didn't even realize my own shortcomings!  I viewed the internet in a certain way and used it to accomplish certain tasks, so my expectations of this class were limited accordingly.  I could only envision myself writing for the internet in a way that I had commonly seen and read.  However, I now know that there are many styles and forms of internet writing, some which are far-removed from the corporate writing I was familiar with. But having this basic knowledge of several types of internet writing has helped me develop a wider perspective on and truly deeper understanding of the cultural implications and effects of this crazy, massive thing we call the internet.  So the class may not have met my expectations, but I think I am all the better for it. 

 

Beta Release: Almost..Kind of..Done.

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Here is the "final" rough draft of my website, my Beta Release.  I tried to covey a general understanding of the SHU World Affairs Forum; I wanted to appeal to students who knew little or nothing about the organization and as such I wanted to inform them of what and who WAF is and what we do. 

The only way to know if I really accomplished this is, of course, is to test my site out on others.  So please, take a minute...check out the site and give me some feedback!  The site is fairly small; a homepage and three interior pages.  All suggestions are welcome.

These are just a couple questions I have, but feel free to comment on anything.

Do you understand WAF?

Are you left with any questions about the organization?

Does anything seem unnecessary or wordy?

Is anything about the design/format distracting or ineffective?

 

Thanks!  If anyone else is looking for a tester, I'd be happy to return the favor.

Growing Pains: Alpha Report

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Today in class, I struggled with my Alpha release.  Because my term project is a website (for the SHU World Affairs Forum), my alpha release contained a complete draft of my homepage, and the frame work for three interior pages.  One interior page (on "events") was partially completed, one was completely finished ("about us") and one was yet to be started ("sister organizations"). 

I had Chelsea Oliver review/test my alpha release.  Her suggestions were primarily on the design/lay out of the site, and she gave positive reviews for the actual "web writing."  Some of her suggestions included:

·         Taking away the menu link for "SHU home" and just linking the SHU logo to the homepage

·         Adding more pictures

·         Adding graphic elements to the sidebar

·         Telling users, under the events page, that all events are usually free and open to anyone

From this alpha testing, I also thought of a few suggestions for my site:

·         Adding a "footer" section to every page with contact information

·         Telling users how they can find out about specific events ("Look for posters around campus.  Watch for a global e-mail." etc...)

Mainly, I had to deal with the imperfection of web design.  I have this ongoing problem that everything I design on my home computer, looks completely screwed up on other computers.  As a perfectionist, this is a tough pill for me to swallow!  I have to remember to focus on the web writing and not completely on the design...ugh. 

 

Progress Report: Putting WAF on the Web

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For my term project, I have proposed designing an informative hypertext/simple website for the World Affairs Forum (WAF) at Seton Hill.  I'm a member of WAF and we're a small campus organization without much recognition, so I thought the idea would be a good fit for this project.

I've determined my target audience: SHU freshman and sophomore students who have yet to get involved with any extra-curricular activities.  However, the site will be designed and written in a tone appropriate for SHU faculty as well.   

Thus far in my planning I've sketched out a basic layout for my site.  I want to have a homepage, obviously, with clear organization and navigation.  On the home page, I want to include the WAF logo (probably in the upper left-hand corner of the page) with a clear tag line that will describe the group and the purpose of the site.  I also want to include elements of design associated with SHU, like the SHU logo (see below).  Because WAF is so new and not very well-known, the homepage will probably be greatly dedicated to conveying the main point of the WAF (think Krug). As part of this, I will incorporate the WAF mission and motto...but in a creative way, since mission statements are usually something web users skip over.

As for internal pages, I want to have a page for: fall 2008 events, spring 2009 events, WAF members, and sister organizations.  The "events" pages will list and describe all of our previous and future events, the "members" page will provide brief bios of the student and faculty members in WAF, possibly with pictures, and their contact information.  The "sister organizations" page will link to groups outside of WAF that have helped us develop events or have co-sponsored events. This includes, but is not limited to, City Asylum Pittsburgh and the SHU Alumni Relations.

As part of my design, I've e-mailed Phil Komarny to see if I can use the SHU website style sheet in my design.  Practically, if this site were ever uploaded for public use, it would be linked from somewhere within the SHU homepage.  I also e-mailed around to see what it would take to get the page uploaded as an actual part of the SHU page, and I discovered that I'll have to submit it to the SHU web committee for approval.

If anyone has any comments or suggests for my site, please let me know!  I also have some specific questions about my project so far:

1.  How can I keep the proportions of my site the same, so it appears the same on every monitor?  In other words, I don't want my "margins" or "padding" dimensions to be based on each individual monitor.  Is it possible to keep them the same?

2.  In my navigation bar, I want to list "Events" and then have "fall 2008 events" and "Spring 2009 events" appear as subheadings after the user has clicked "events."  How can I do this?

If anyone has the answers to these questions...or can show me someplace where I can find the answers...it'd be greatly appreciated!

 

Krug: The Archetype.

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Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability presents the theoretical archtype for web usability.  But really, his book is a archetype for all books about web design and writing.

Don't Make Me Think was like a breath of fresh air in the world of internet texts.  Although I was more or less forced to read the book, (as part of my EL236: Writing for the Internet) the book didn't feel forced at all.  It was a quick and easy read.  Moreover, it was succinct and clear while also being incredibly informative.  Web usability and usability testing were not subjects I had every really been introduced to; after reading this little book, however, I feel not only acquainted with the subjects, I feel as if I know them well enough to use the principles they express.  Ultimately this is the goal of any how-to book or college text, but many fall short of the standard.

Besides packing a lot of power in a few pages, Don’t Make Me Think is a web book that actually practices what it preaches.  The book is catchy in design, layout and text.  Headings, phrasing, comparisons and examples all pull you into the book, rather than lull you to sleep.  And these elements may only seem "skin deep", but they really equated to a higher interest in and higher understanding of the text.  The design of Krug's own book was the best example of the benefits of usability he could have ever offered his readers.  I can probably say I learned more from this text than the others read in this class; not that the others weren't valuable, they were, Krug just bested them in the presentation of his information.  His presentation upped my retention. 

My classmates Megan, Anne, and Jed - among others - all had very positive reviews about the book too, which again speaks volumes about its effective, easy style and refreshing simplicity. This was the third in line for web texts in this class, which presented it with the very formidable task of being interesting and useful to students who were probably feeling, at best, tired, and at worst, exasperated and frustrated!  But Krug delivered.

In addition to Krug's catchy presentation of ideas, his ideas in themselves were well-rounded and useful.  The book logically progressed from principles of web use, to principles of web design, to usability testing and associability.  He even found room to discuss professional conflicts.  And although the book was written in 2000 and some of its examples are obscure and even admittedly outdated, they still resonate with the audience.  Conventions are conventions.  What was "good design" in 2000, I think, is basically still "good design" in 2008.

The only suggestion I'd give to Krug for a future edition would be to cut down a few of the lengthy chapters (chapter 6 and 7).  These two chapters seemed to break the short and snappy pace of the book.  I'd keep all the ideas, most definitely, but I'd categorize them into separate, shorter chapters so readers wouldn't feel so overwhelmed by a long stream of endless content.  It was a lot to take in at once. 

 

Krug: The Archetype.

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Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability presents the theoretical archtype for web usability.  But really, his book is a archetype for all books about web design and writing.

Don't Make Me Think was like a breath of fresh air in the world of internet texts.  Although I was more or less forced to read the book, (as part of my EL236: Writing for the Internet) the book didn't feel forced at all.  It was a quick and easy read.  Moreover, it was succinct and clear while also being incredibly informative.  Web usability and usability testing were not subjects I had every really been introduced to; after reading this little book, however, I feel not only acquainted with the subjects, I feel as if I know them well enough to use the principles they express.  Ultimately this is the goal of any how-to book or college text, but many fall short of the standard.

Besides packing a lot of power in a few pages, Don’t Make Me Think is a web book that actually practices what it preaches.  The book is catchy in design, layout and text.  Headings, phrasing, comparisons and examples all pull you into the book, rather than lull you to sleep.  And these elements may only seem "skin deep", but they really equated to a higher interest in and higher understanding of the text.  The design of Krug's own book was the best example of the benefits of usability he could have ever offered his readers.  I can probably say I learned more from this text than the others read in this class; not that the others weren't valuable, they were, Krug just bested them in the presentation of his information.  His presentation upped my retention. 

My classmates Megan, Anne, and Jed - among others - all had very positive reviews about the book too, which again speaks volumes about its effective, easy style and refreshing simplicity. This was the third in line for web texts in this class, which presented it with the very formidable task of being interesting and useful to students who were probably feeling, at best, tired, and at worst, exasperated and frustrated!  But Krug delivered.

In addition to Krug's catchy presentation of ideas, his ideas in themselves were well-rounded and useful.  The book logically progressed from principles of web use, to principles of web design, to usability testing and associability.  He even found room to discuss professional conflicts.  And although the book was written in 2000 and some of its examples are obscure and even admittedly outdated, they still resonate with the audience.  Conventions are conventions.  What was "good design" in 2000, I think, is basically still "good design" in 2008.

The only suggestion I'd give to Krug for a future edition would be to cut down a few of the lengthy chapters (chapter 6 and 7).  These two chapters seemed to break the short and snappy pace of the book.  I'd keep all the ideas, most definitely, but I'd categorize them into separate, shorter chapters so readers wouldn't feel so overwhelmed by a long stream of endless content.  It was a lot to take in at once. 

 

Blogging Portfolio: A new, interactive perspective on the web

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This segment of EL236 Writing for the Internet at Seton Hill University has been all about learning web conventions, web design and information exchange through experience.  But your typical web experiences.  Yes, here on my blog I've chronicled what I've been learning, but many of my activities centered on playing Interactive Fiction games (yikes! something I never knew existed) and editing/creating material for Wikipedia.  In between these two activities, I also read about web usability, web accessibility, and usability testing in Steve Krug’s book, Don't Make me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.  The subject matter of the text not only talked about interaction, but fostered interaction as my class designed and administered our own mini-usability tests.  In a nutshell, this portion of EL236 taught me how fundamental interactivity is to the web; as a web user (or designer, even) I am never just simply absorbing information as it comes to me, I am also contributing to the process - and this process can take a multitude of forms. 

Below, take a look at my blog entries (categorized by different class requirements) to see the details of what and how I learned.

Coverage - blogs with quoting, sources, and trackbacks

IF kicked my butt - Learning - the hard way - that interactive fiction isn't as simple as it seems.

Common Sense - The first in a line of entries on Steve Krug's book

Kill the Happy - My commentary to Krug's principles of web user psychology and web design basics

Joe the Web User - Another Krug.  Here we question, Is there a web user?  If so, what does he or she look like?

The Boss - Krug & I tackle the authority-figure issues of web design

Usability, Likability, Accessibility - A Krug blog that discusses usability testing and some fringe-subjects of usability.

Wikipedia 2 - The second installment in a line of blogs about a Wikipedia Workshop.  This one details my encounter with Wikipedia administration.

Wikipedia 3 - An examination of Wiki editing policies in practice, using the Steelers wiki page as an example.

Wikipedia 4 - A comparison between the wiki entries for Seton Hill University and St. Vincent College

Timeliness - blogs submitted on time; that is, 24 hours before the next class meeting

Common Sense

Kill the Happy

Interaction -

Referencing others

Wikipedia 1 - The first Wikipedia blog.  Here, I weigh the pros-and-cons of the free, online encyclopedia.

Wikipedia 2

Wikipedia 3

Krug's Review - My personal review of Krug's book

Comment generating

Usability, Likability, Accessibility 

Good and Bad - My reactions to playing the IF game Slouching Towards Bedlam

Depth - Lengthier and more complex blogs

Good and Bad

Wikipedia 2

Wikipedia 5 - My experiences in editing some Wikipedia articles

Common Sense

Kill the Happy

Usability, Likability, Accessibility

Joe the Web User

Krug's Review

Discussion - comments I made to others

Chelsea's Blog - Finding an example in GriffinGate

another Chelsea - I elaborate and offer some ideas

Anne's Blog - Reaffirming ideas

another Anne - She points out some revelations in her Wikipedia experiences I never noticed

Maddie's Blog  - Summarizing big ideas

Danni's Blog - I try to help her fight through some IF fiction

Christina's Blog - Expanding on thoughts

Getting my feet wet the Wikipedia Way

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For my first attempts at contributing to Wikipedia, I edited the Rachael Ray page and the Seton Hill University page.   If you click on the preceding links, you can view the pages as I left them, after my changes.  To the Rachael Ray page, I added a section on "Charity Work" and information on her non-profit organization, Yum-o!  On the Seton Hill page, I added the Undergraduate section.  To compare my changes to their preceding versions, please see the old Rachael Ray page and the old SHU page

My changes have yet to generate any reaction from the Wikipedia community, but I'm not too surprised because I didn't add anything all that earth-shattering to either page.  But still, I was a little intimidated by this process.  I had a difficult time finding a subject that I "knew enough" to contribute to Wikipedia.  And I was always second guessing myself if I was undermining any of the Wikipedia policies on credible information and unbiased perspective.  But, I suppose that's why sections like "history" and "discussion" are there, so those contributors who are trying to genuinely contribute to Wikipedia can learn and grow.  I don't think I could have ever gone in 100% confident in my writing for Wikipedia by only reading their policies and guidelines; I think it is something you have to try for yourself.

So after testing things out for myself, I think others in academia could have something to take away from the process.  I think professors and high school teachers especially should do an activity like this with their students.  There is no sense in avoiding Wikipedia like the plague and telling others to do so; regardless of your opinions on its credibility, I don't think Wikipedia is going anywhere anytime soon. As long as it’s out there students are going to use it in some manner or another.  So I think teachers should encourage their students to interact with Wikipedia by testing it and adding to it themselves; that way, they can learn what effort goes into viable information and what the difference between reliable and unreliable information looks like, both on Wikipedia and any internet source. And as the internet continues to grow and become an almost indistinguishable part of our culture and society, it's important to do this at as young an age as possible; I think I could have gotten more out of this activity if I did it in high school, rather than having my teachers tell me to never, ever use Wikipedia.  Ever. 

In any case, I was still able to take some important ideas away from my interaction with Wikipedia.  I was able to see the inside infrastructure of Wikipedia, and like I said above, it's clear that it is a source with staying power, not an internet fad that will fade with time.  It should be used, but used wisely.  And from my experiences editing a page, I realized that maybe every mistake out there isn't malicious (although a lot are, I'm sure).  Wikipedia should be embraced, albeit cautiously, and perhaps with a focus on its interactivity, not its role as a one-way, cut-copy-paste information source.

 

 

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