Friday, December 18, 2009

Blog vs Newsletter - What is the difference?

Here is the premise: you have been tasked to create a newsletter for your organization. You've traditionally created a printed publication, but now you want to go online to save printing costs. Do you create a newsletter formatted Web site or do you use a blog?

I've been asked this question many times and recently the answer has become increasingly clear. First, let's define what is a blog and newsletter. The definitions below are courtesy of Wikipedia.

A blog (A contraction of the term "web log") is a type of Web site, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.
A newsletter is a regularly distributed publication generally about one main topic that is of interest to its subscribers. Newspapers and leaflets are types of newsletters. General attributes of newsletters include news and upcoming events of the related organization, as well as contact information for general inquiries.
If you look at the definition of a blog and a newsletter there are not a lot of differences. Many of the differences that come to mind are because of what historically the words mean to us. Newsletters were originally printed pieces that came out on a regular schedule, usually monthly, on topics of interest to an specific audience. For organizations these newsletters range from human resources to information technology and most of us get PDF versions of newsletters with a wide array of readability and use.

What is the stigma with blogs?

The blog was one of the first Web 2.0 and social media platform. Blogs initially were given a bad name because the general public felt that it was only one person's opinion of a topic. This was true for a period of time in the early stages of Web 2.0, but is now one of the primary methods of communications between professionals. If you remove all preconceived notions about blogs, you have a simple platform to share information to an audience on a timely basis around single or multiple topics.

With today's blog tools many authors can contribute to a blog and can release a batch of "posts" on a regular schedule or release each post at a time. Tools are available to allow people to subscribe to the RSS feeds or even receive an email notification when new posts are published. Since blog entries are time based on a particular subject, they can be a helpful way to inform an audience on a timely basis.

Any benefits to a blog?

With today's technology there is not much difference between a blog and an online newsletter as a communication tool. Blogs by default are categorized or grouped by year, month and day. If you have a monthly newsletter, you could simply publish all your posts as they are completed. You could then send a link to just the blogs for that month via email or using automated method. Another benefit to using a blog format is that visitors can comment on the posts and easily share them on social networks.

Posting on a continuos cycle will also make the search engines happy because they will see content being updated regularly. When content is updated often search engines will index your site on a more frequent basis thus driving more traffic to your site by people searching on keywords.

When creating blog posts you can keep them in a private or draft state until you are ready to publish so it is not a continual stream of edits during the creation of an individual post. When creating posts you can also tag or categorize each one with simple words to allow visitors to see all posts related to a topic. For example, if a communications unit was creating a newsletter with a blog tool, you could categorize posts with topics like Web, marketing, publications, photography and so on. Visitors could look at all the posts related to a topic that specifically interests them and even beyond just the latest issue. Tagging is an important characteristic as most newsletters go out to an diverse audiences and this gives the visitor a way of creating a filter based on their interests.

At the core, a blog and a newsletter is simply a Web page. Each communication format can contain text, images, and formatting styles. The important distinction between blogs and newsletters from general Web sites is that they are time based and are for an intended audience. Blogger and WordPress are a few examples of free tools that will allow you to quickly create your online newsletter. Most content management systems can also be structured like a blog and provide many of the same Web 2.0 features.

Any common trends with newsletters online?

Historically, online newsletters are created using print publication software, like Word, and digitized into a PDF to be either emailed or placed on a Web site. Not only is this more work, but the PDF technology was not invented to present information for online reading. Creating an online newsletter using print software and PDFs may give more design freedom, but it does not benefit the consumption of the information or the ease of content creation. Online newsletters in PDF are usually created based off an author's experience with print newsletters and their comfort level with newer technologies.

Next steps

In closing, please try using a blogging tool to get your online newsletter content into a Web-friendly format that allows for easy reading and sharing with others. Once you get past the stigma of what a tradition blog is all about, you will find that a blog is simple just a tool with a wide variety of possible of uses. Blogs are one of the best tools to communicate content to an audience and is simple to create and maintain. Remember a blog is simple a Web page formatted a specific way to read content that is shared on a regular and timely basis.

Comments welcome!

Friday, December 4, 2009

20 Amazing Kinetic Typography Videos

Kinetic Typography as defined in Wikipedia is
the technical name for "moving text"—is an animation technique mixing motion and text. This text is presented over time in a manner intended to convey or evoke a particular idea or emotion. It is often studied in Communication Design and Interaction Design courses. Some commonly seen examples of this technique include movie title sequences and credits, web page animation and other entertainment media.
This form of visual communication, in my mind, is very powerful. When done well, the words and sounds themselves take on a life of their own. When you are restricted down to only text and simple animations, you need to be very creative to evoke emotion. Typography 101 is a staple of any art program, but new technologies are taking it to another level.

This form of communication is more difficult than it seems given the creativity needed to convey an idea only through text. The videos below are created using Adobe Flash, Adobe After Effects, or Apply Motion and have so many possible uses.

Kinetic typography is a new form of art and I wanted to share with you some amazing examples. Below are 20 videos on YouTube and more can be found by searching for kinetic typography or your favor movie followed by the word typography.

Fight Club - Chemical Burn - Kinetic Typography

Pulp Fiction in Motion Graphics

Full Metal Jacket in Motion for AMC - by Brandon Lori

Oceans Eleven Project

Matrix animation

Zoolander Typography

Blink 182 - Online Songs Kinetic Typography

Citizen Cope - Let The Drummer Kick (AFX)

Who's on First? Typography

Fight Club - Chemical Burn - Kinetic Typography

Typography Experiment to The Hush Sound's "We Intertwined"

Psychatric Answering Machine Typography Animation

V for Vendetta in Kinetic Typography

The Big Lebowski Typography

Streetlight Manifesto - "Would You Be Impressed"

Kinetic Typography - Live Out Loud

Mad As Hell! Kinetic Typography

Nick the Greek

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in typography / motion type

Dumb and Dumber Kinetic Typography

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Death of The Personal Web Site

The Web has come a long way since the mid 1990's and for many people who have created their own sites, they can remember each of their own major design iterations. People with enough technical skills could create a Web page with a text editor or visual tools like Frontpage and Dreamweaver. Other experience with related technologies such as FTP and Photoshop were needed to be successful and there were a wide array of design practices.

Another hot item was to register your own .net or .com Web site, find an ISP, and host everything. The best Web designers and developers went this route because it gave them complete control, but it came with sometimes expensive hosting fees. Designers and developers were experimenting with different layouts, animated GIFs were used quite a bit and usability was an unknown word.

With the advent of newer and faster technologies, ISPs lowered their hosting fees and almost anyone with enough technical experience could have their own .com custom Web site. Most people created their Web sites as a reflection of themselves. Often times, the content was their interests, pictures, friends and related links. There were not a lot of great Web sites thus with a little planning and work your site could generate a lot of traffic. From 2000 to 2005 creating your own personal Web with everything about you was the best approach.

So what happened in the past few years? Why are these type of Web sites losing popularity and relevance?

The quick answer is social media and the maturity of browser-based technologies killed the need comprehensive personal Web sites.

A lot of the tools that we have today like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and LinkedIn were not all created or mainstream from 1995 to 2005. What is possible from within a Web browser today along with broadband Internet was a pipe dream back when everything had to be done by hand. Many Web developers who started their career in the 1990's knew that we were all part of this revolution. We saw the need for dynamic technologies and we were writing Perl, ASP and ColdFusion scripts to create one off content management systems and other applications to allow non-technical people to manage Web sites.

Web developers had job security because they could charge per hour for writing small Web-based applications to do a wide array of tasks. As hosted and free Web applications and frameworks started to emerge, many Web developers blew them off because they felt they could not be as flexible and robust as a custom application. In the back of our minds many of the developers felt slightly threatened and wondered what our jobs would be like if all of our clients just used free and available technologies.

Well that day has come and many Web developers are still employed and productive but our jobs have dramatically changed. Personally for myself and my Web team, we are no longer pure "developers" but instead I feel we are more "integrators". We still program but instead we use as many open source technologies and write code to create interfaces between them. We take the best of available technologies and put them together to create something new with limited development.

What was originally fueled by fear created something even better: Web standards and interoperability. All along Web developers were pushing for standards to make their development easier and allow for easier communication between systems. Even though differences between browsers still exist, we are light years from the 1990's.

I feel this new way of working is much more gratifying, efficient and team oriented.  Instead of Web developers recreating the wheel, we are now collaborating together within open source tools, sharing code, building widgets, and as Tim O'Reilly says "do what you do best and link to the rest."

Instead of writing code for a single client or project we now focus on the greater good and we get satisfaction from our peers. Many of us are not only internally fueled by client satisfaction but by gathering feedback and praise from the Web community on our latest "invention".

So how did this big happy family of Web people kill personal Web sites?

As Tim O'Reilly said at the Web 2.0 Expo in NYC in 2009 "To be successful in today's Web - go where the party is at." Building stand alone Web sites focused around "you" just won't cut it anymore given all of the Web technologies and social sites that exist.

Think of it this way...say you are having a garage sale at your house and you have a lot of items you wish to sell. On the same day of the garage sale all of your neighbors get together and have a combined garage sale at the new community park. People looking to get a good bargain could either go to your garage sale or go to the community park to get a much bigger selection and socialize. Plus when everyone comes together they can share resources like tables, helpers, and signs. Before the community park was created, all the garage sales at people's house were on a equal playing field. Now that there is a place for everyone to congregate together it is advantageous for not only the buyer but the seller. The efficiency and community aspect of social interactions often times benefits everyone involved.

The same can be said about social communities like Facebook and MySpace. The information that is being presented on these social networks could be created independently and there is nothing completely new being presented. Again, people are sharing their stories, pictures, videos and topics they are interested in. The big difference is that now you can do all of that without having to know any Web technologies and it is generally all free. You no longer have to program or maintain and host these technologies and age or technical experience is not so much a factor.

While the word "death" seems very negative and depressing, it is actually where the Web needed to go. It is no longer being ran by Web developers, but by people at large who are sharing their lives with people who care or around specific topics. When the Web was getting bigger in the 1990's, many mainstream people felt it was a hang out for introverts and for some this probably was a partially true statement. For a good decade Web developers around the world locked themselves into their rooms and through evolution of code and technologies were born Web applications that touch our every day lives.

Many technologies came and went very quickly but the ones that have lasted are the social Web sites and applications. What is interesting is that the most important feature of the Web in today's world is the ability to connect and share information with people more than the technology itself. People and communication is what is behind the Web now instead of the previously perceived anti-social hangout.

The Wisdom of the Crowds is what now drives the Web and has killed the need for a personal Web sites. You can still have your own .com Web site but it should be nothing more than a blog and an aggregate of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media presences. To be most successful today with your own blog you should focus around specific topics instead of a general stream your thought at any given moment.

Each of the social media and Web 2.0 technologies have their defined pros and cons. For example, use Facebook to share information with people you know and use Twitter/blogs to connect with people around topics. Put your photos on Flickr and tag them so others interested in similar photos can benefit from your experiences. Upload your videos to YouTube and embed them into your blog so that you draw visitors from not only your site but also YouTube's search engine.

It is a brave new world for the Web but it is where it needed to go. Behind all the transistors, servers and cloud computing models are people. The more we can obscure the technology and connect people, the more powerful and useful the Web can become. The need for a personal Web site died when free to use technologies and Web sites were created to connect and communicate with people on a large scale. This is the same idea in our non-electronic world as most of us live in communities, cities, states. We meet and interact with people through sports, clubs and enjoy the daily "water cooler" talk at work.

I welcome your feedback and thoughts if you have seen and experienced this same transformation of the Web.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to effectively use Google Analytics for multiple Web sites

Want to analyze the traffic and trends on your Web site? Most of the time people have a single Web site and a single Google Analytics (GA) account to get the job done. This is pretty straight forward and everything works as planned.

What do you do if you have multiple Web sites with separate URLs?

One conclusion would be to create a separate GA account for each site and copy/paste the code into each Web site's footer. If you only care about analytics for each site individually then this is a perfectly acceptable solution. What if you want to aggregate the analytics or see how people move between sites? Well then that solution quickly breaks down as it is littered with problems.

The best method to handle analytic reporting is to use a single GA account and code snippet. Why? Because you can look at all the Web site traffic separately (as normal), aggregate data from multiple or all Web sites, create custom reports and segments (fields with user-defined criteria) and do it all without having to manage multiple accounts.

Sounds great doesn't it? It works well, but it requires a number of steps to set up and considerations when working with the data. Follow the steps below and you'll be on your way to viewing complete analytic data for two, three or even hundreds of your Web sites. Steps 1-3 will just be review for most people.

Step 1: Create Site(s)
Create/manage one or more Web sites (If this is not done, then you need to read another blog)

Step 2: Create Account
Create a account and Log into Google Analytics.

Step 3: Add Code
Create or use an existing profile and copy/paste the tracking code into all of your Web site's footers. This is more than one step, but this blog assumes you have already grasped the general concept of using Google Analyics.

There are few variables that you need to set in the tracking code for your specific needs. Follow the links below that best describes your URL structure.
Once you have the correct pageTracker._setDomainName variable set on your code publish it to your Web sites.

Step 4: Create Filters
This is the most important step because it allows you to separate out the traffic from site to site. If you do not create filters all of the traffic from all of the different Web sites will be aggregated. For example if you have these two about page: and Google Analytics will by default reports both sites together as "/about". Google assumes you are using the code on a single Web sites so you need to take extra steps to make a single account and tracking code work on multiple sites.

A a minimum you will need to create a domain filter like the following:

What this filter does is takes the hostname of the Web site and appends the Request URI variable and sets it back to the Request URI variable. This same method will work for domains and subdomains.

Removing www from URL

If you are not 301 redirecting all of your traffic to a single URL then I am going to recommend one more filter. For example if and are both valid URLs you will want to combine these into a single domain to effectively use Google Analytics. Below is an example filter of how to do it, but if you can use a 301 redirector at the server level then skip this additional filter.

The details of this filter is that it uses regular expressions to filter out any URLs starting with www and takes the remaining URL string and sets it back to the hostname. The actual RegEx search string is "^(www\.)?(.+)$", which is used for both field A&B.

Please note that once you create a filter you need to make sure it is add to your specific profile. You can add filters to profiles by editing the profile. You can change the order of any of your filters, but please make sure the domain filter created is last in the list.

Step 5: Wait...
Since GA is not real-time you may have to wait hours to even a day before checking to see if analytics are being pulled in correctly. If you already have waited a day or so to have enough data you can move on to the next step.

Step 6: Creating Reports
Now that you are using a single GA account and tracking code, all of your statistics is automatically aggregated on the dashboard and other reports. There are two main ways to filter your data down to a specific hostname - first by drill down and second by creating an advanced segment.

Drill Down

You can simply drill down to a specific hostname ( or using the following steps to find the page view information.
  1. Click Content on the left menu
  2. Click Content Drilldown
  3. Click the hostname of the Web site in question or use the search box at the bottom of the list.
You are now viewing the specific page view statistics for this domain. You can continue to drill into directories of the Web site and at any point you can change the dimension drop down box from "page" so a specific piece of data you would like to view.


If you want to see visitors instead of page views you can follow this same method, but instead go to Visitors > Network Properties > Hostnames and use the same method to filter down to the Web site in question.

While drilling down is fairly easy it can get old very quickly and you are limiting yourself to all the rest of the analytic report.

So what is the better approach? Advanced segments!

Creating Advanced Segments

Advanced segments is a feature that made users do backflips when it was announced. It was the missing link and has truly made GA very much more powerful yet flexible tool. An advanced segment is simple way to filter the aggregated data down to any criteria. A simple boolean logic form is used to create any kind of filter based on any dimension or metric.

How does this help? You can simple create an advanced segment for each of your Web sites' hostnames and at will narrow down all of the reports to that site. You can view Google's brief video overview of advance segments for more information.

Follow the steps below to create your advanced segment.
  1. Click Advanced Segments from the left menu
  2. Click Create new custom segment on the top right
  3. Type in "hostname" in the filter box on the left menu of all available dimensions and metrics.
  4. Click and drag the green hostname box on the left into the center column dashed line box that says "dimension or metric".
  5. Keep the drop down window saying "matches exactly" unless you want your advanced segment to filter down to a substring of the hostname.
  6. In the text box to the right type in the hostname without any http://.
  7. Give the segment a title like " Traffic".
  8. Click the "test segment" button and make sure it gives you back some data so that you know this segment will return results.
Be aware if you've created a www filter, that you need to put in the hostname as it would be without the www. If you are keeping the www you can ignore this note. For example, if your Web site is and you redirect or filter out the www and send traffic to you will need to make sure you have that in your advanced segment.

Your advanced segment for each domain should look something like this:

Applying an advanced segment

Now that you have created an advanced segment for each of your Web site's hostnames you can apply them to the dashboard or when viewing any GA report.

Simply click the drop down menu near "advanced segments" on the top right of any report and you will see two menus. The left menu is all of the default segments that are available at which "all visits" is checked by default. The right menu is the list of each of your advanced segments that you created.

Please note that you can only check up to 3 segments at a time for comparisons. Also, if you check more than one segment it automatically checks the "all visits" segment, which cannot be unchecked. If you want only a specific hostname, check the advanced segment on the right menu and then un-check the "all visits" from the left menu.

When you apply a custom advanced segment it should look something like this:

Just click apply once you've made your selections and wait a few moments for the advanced segment to be applied. This segment will stay active until you make another selection or if you click the back arrow to a page that previously didn't have the current selected segment checked.

That's it! Seems like a lot of steps, but most people should be able to go through them quickly and it is pretty intuitive after you've done it a few times.

Be aware that any advanced segment you create is only associated with your Google account. If you have given out read access to the reports those people will not see your segments and will have to create their own using the same steps.

Google still says the advanced segments are still in beta, but the trends and traffic levels are very similar to reports manually generated from log files directly from the server.

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Article: WebLion assists College of Agricultural Sciences with massive Web redesign project

Article date: July 28, 2009


Chris More, associate director of Web communications with the College of Agricultural Sciences, had a monster of a project on his plate -- enhance and consolidate the 300 separate Web sites, which included a half-million pages.

Read more: