PhilaMaking a New Comfort Zone

PhilaMade pin

Socializing with strangers can be a scary thing for most of us. The stakes get raised even higher if it has anything to do with your profession. Every time I take one of those introvert/extrovert tests I fall right in the middle. I’m balanced. That is why last night’s PhilaMade event was so interesting to me. I had to step away from my balanced role and try and play the role of extrovert.

Invited

It all stared with an email from the PhilaMade group inviting me to go to an event at North Bowl in Philly. I was kind of on-the-fence about going, considering it is a social event and I probably wouldn’t know anyone there. PhilaMade has a whole thing about being invited by other members to events you can see here. I vaguely know two people in the Community and I thought there was a chance either one of them would be there, but it didn’t seem likely. Even if the invite was a mistake I decided to go anyway and sent in my RSVP.

The First 45 Minutes

The event started at 6 p.m. and for about the first hour I sat at the bar next to a guy who didn’t seem like he was even remotely interested in talking to me. I think he actually turned his back towards me. It was kind of awkward. It was also weird enough to be comedy, making me want to see how it would play out. That conversation never happened.

I drank some beer and waited for people to fill the place up while texting stupid videos to friends.

The Crowd Arrives

An hour into the event the bar filled in and I was able to start mixing it up a little. First I talked to a young developer who has his own freelance business called Proud Pixel. It was a nice conversation for me because it brought back memories of what it was like when I started out doing full-time freelance design work.

Tracking Down a Pin

I realized part way through the event that I wanted to get one of the member pins that this group uses to track membership. So, I started the process of tracking one down.

Since I’m pretty sure I arrived through the incorrect channels, I figured I would just ask around and if someone told me “no, you don’t get one” it would just end there. Besides, it’s just a pin. My heart wouldn’t break if it didn’t work out. This quest for a pin was a nice way for me to talk to even more people at the event. It reminded me of an adult scavenger hunt.

By the time I made my way to the pins I had skipped straight to black-pin-status. I’m not sure if that is significant in any way, but I honestly thought it was cool to get one at that point. Could that be some unresolved stuff from high school?

Celebrity Status

From my barstool I eventually noticed Allison Wagner in the crowd. She was on an episode of Shop Talk Show(one of my favorite podcasts) awhile back and is a Girl Develop It teacher. I was psyched to see someone that I’m a fan of, so I walked over to introduce myself. It was surprising how nice she was to me considering I think I also interrupted her conversation. After a little preprocessor talk I was done nerding-out and ready to catch a train home.

Put a Bow on It

Obviously this is not the most compelling story in the world. I didn’t tame a Lion or anything. But there were many times during the night where I forced myself to do the thing that I knew would be more interesting, even if it was less comfortable at first. I’d like to keep this trend going.

Realizing that there isn’t much to lose by trying something new is my point. The likelihood that I said things that annoyed people is very high. At the end of the day I guess a stranger that is slightly annoyed by you is worth everything else you get in return.

Photos from the event are on the PhilaMade flikr feed. See you PhilaMade folks at the next event.

Quarter-Plus Pageviews

Google Analytics

How important is it have a website that is mobile ready? At-a-glance it appears that mobile visitors to my site view about 27% more pages than desktop users.

Obviously this isn’t a scientific study, so there are all kinds of variables that I’m not taking into account. They might be viewing more pages because they are simply using there devices out of boredom and don’t have anything else to do. It is also very likely that they are viewing more pages, because visitors are using these devices during leisure time.

I’m not really trying to extrapolate the reason for the difference in pageviews. This is really just a little more ammo in the fight to make websites future-friendly. Clearly the mobile/tablet-users should now be considered a first-class passenger of the web.

Maybe after my upcoming redesign I can get that additional pageview number up to 50% for mobile/tablet. Clearly they stick around a little longer and deserve some more consideration.

Too Many Options

too many options

I really do think that it is possible to suffer from too many options. It can be totally paralyzing when starting a web project. Recently I’ve been using Evernote to create the notes and checklists for many of my projects. I’ve been getting the equivalent of a “designer’s block” when creating the checklist of technologies that will be used on any newer project. Is it possible that there is just too much to consider?

Circa 2007

Remember what it was like to choose between Scriptaculous, Dojo, Mootools, Prototype and jQuery? Buying into one of these javascript libraries would have a huge impact on the maintenance of your site in the years to come. Thankfully jQuery seems to be a clear winner in this group, making one choice a little easier for us web folks.

Now I find myself sifting through a list of other great tools for building websites that seemingly have even more impact on maintenance. While all of these options are great, much of the time it feels as though I’m making a series of bets on which of these tools are the most likely to stick around. And this list is also significantly shortened since I’ve decided that I’m most comfortable delivering a site using a small LAMP server setup. I’d be pulling my hair out trying to do some Heroku and Ruby wizardry otherwise. I can save that frustration for non-client projects. Maybe I’ll even go down the Jekyll or Octopress road for my personal site one of these days.

My List

This list is obviously not totally complete, but below are the most likely candidates for many of my projects. This list would get significantly longer if I added all of the techniques and plugins used to optimized a site with microformats, retina display, responsive design, accessibility, SEO, caching and social plugins/APIs.

If this was 6 years ago I would be writing a post about the most efficient way to create a website with a table layout and XML loaded flash videos (which is still nice to know if you create html email campaigns). With that in mind my new approach is to create some future-friendly abstraction that keep will make it easy to independently update or change the design, controller(CMS) or data without breaking any of these other key components.

Kids These Days!

I’m really not sure how the next generation is absorbing all of this so quickly. Unlike a few years ago, it seems virtually impossible to start out writing plain old-fashioned HTML. That has even been abstracted into Haml and Markdown.

Oh yeah, I also forgot my goal is to design the site as well. Now that I’ve left photoshop behind in the design process, these are the decisions I’m required to make before I can start designing in the browser and trying to upload some shots to my dribbble account.

Zeldman Retweet


This is a little story about a casual interaction that took me from really excited to super disappointed in a matter of minutes. Little things like this are the reason I love the internet.

The setting was my office at work. While I’m organizing files and setting up projects, I typically like to entertain myself with podcasts. The podcast episode I was listening to on this day was a great interview with David Sleight by Jeffery Zeldman on The Big Web Show podcast.

I design for both print and web, including a 48 page quarterly magazine, making this episode on transitioning to digital publishing super relevant to me. When the conversation turned to the subject of cognitive dissidence Zeldman had a great quote that I connected with. It was a simple way to explain why it’s actually natural that we push forward even when we know something is wrong. He said “We are the animals that know we are going to die.”

I tweeted this quote because it seemed “genius” for many reason. To my surprise I received an update notifying me that Zeldman had “retweeted” and “favorited” my tweet. This seemed amazing to me considering that Zeldman has over 200,000 followers. Besides hosting this show, he is also the founder of Happy Cog and A List Apart. Even acknowledgment of praise is pretty cool from this guy.

Then I automatically started to think “Oh no, my website isn’t written using SASS, OOCSS or SMACSS and “I’m not using micro-formats yet” and “Why didn’t I make my website with something edgier like OCTOPRESS etc… This was all because I was assuming that if 0.5% of his followers checked me out, it would still be 1,000+ people who are knowledgable in the field of web development looking at my code. One way or the other that is really cool and interesting.

Then, to my disappointment the retweet never showed up! Why didnt’ this work? It doesn’t really bother me that I didn’t get any more visits to my website, considering this site is just for fun. But it still was a let down that it never showed up in either of our twitter feeds.

This roller-coaster of awesomeness lasted maybe 3 minutes and was interesting enough that I felt the need to document it. Sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in the jungle.


Side Note: I also took another small step towards being more semantically correct and used the <q>"quote"</q> tag for the first time in this post.

Favorite TV Characters

Last week, while watching an episode of 30 Rock and sweating away on my trainer, I had the realization that I never really get tired of see the character Dennis Duffy. Why I’m so endeared to this strange character? Probably because Dennis (AKA “The Beeper King” and “Subway Hero”) is consistently the perfect television character.

After spending a little extra time being introspective about what makes “The Beeper King” a perfect character, I started to think about all of the other characters on television that I would also designate with this classification. These titans of the small-screen have very similar qualities to many other TV characters, with one exception. Only these characters are able to put me in a better mood, just by entering my mind. So, next time you want to see me smile, mention the Jean-Ralphio and the Snakehole Lounge.

The main correlation I’ve noticed between all of these “perfect” characters are these traits:

  1. Hapless losers!
  2. Hardly ever the main focus of the show.
  3. Show up just enough to stay relevant.
  4. High-quality dialog.
  5. Little-to-no self-awareness.
  6. Dream BIG and lose ALWAYS.

I’m not sure what it says about ME that I like these characters, but they are pretty amazing. Writing about these bozos also gave me a reason to draw a little. I haven’t done that for awhile, making this a fun post to put together.

Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Parks and Recreation)

Jean-Ralphio

Dennis Duffy, AKA “The Beeper King” and “Subway Hero” (30 Rock)

Dennis Duffy

Father Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

Cricket

Tobias Funke (Arrested Development)

Tobias Funke

Get Social


Making your website easier for others to share is super important for SEO, ROI and ever other buzz-word/acronym-of-the-week that “experts” are constantly pushing. So, why would we make it difficult for others to share your website’s info? My reasoning earlier was that I didn’t want to be your moderator, detention teacher, etc…, but my perspective has changed.

Why the Change?

My mind was changed because I started to use a productivity application called Evernote. Becoming totally obsessed with this app and productivity in general, I started to follow Paul Boag’s (the inventor of Evernote) Twitter feed also. All of that eventually led me to this article on his website. After reading through it I was totally convinced that this would be a fun thing to set up. I guess finding his article about this subject was kind of the point too.

I chose to add Disqus, a twitter mention button and Twitter’s @Anywhere library. These all seem to be great solutions, since they let these other services host the conversation.

Twitter Mention Button


I pulled some of the code out of the Twitter mention button to make it work in my already styled widget area. This took minutes, so for those who need to get this done in seconds you may want to just copy and paste with zero modification.

Disqus Comments


Since my site uses WordPress as a CMS, installing Disqus was super quick and easy. For anyone who is tired of constantly needing to update some kind of captcha/humanizer scripting for their site’s comments, I would highly recommend this tool. It installs quick and let’s people comment through one of their many existing social media profiles (if they have them). That way they don’t need a new password just to comment on my posts. If that won’t work they can comment as a guest. So far I haven’t had any issues with spam, and that was my biggest worry with leaving the default comment field enable earlier.

Twitter’s @Anywhere

Twitter announced the @Anywhere service that lets you link your website to Twitter for more in depth interaction. I’ve been having some issues with this, so it is still kind of a work in progress. Basically everything with the hovercards I created seems to work until you try and follow directly through the card. For now you can only follow someone after going to their linked profile.

Here’s a little test of twitter hovercards that might get a few more follows for those I think are awesome. @chriscoyier @paul_irish @LeaVerou @SohTanaka @Hicksdesign @boagworld @mashable and of course my own @wesleyterry

Sharing my idea/tricks/tips/thoughts is the reason I made this little website to begin with. If I can make it easier for others to do so, great. Otherwise, it is still fun to try and get this all connected.

Hire Creative People

Organizations of all kinds need to understand that in the world where media is easily distributed and shared, the only differentiation you can now make is in how creatively you relay your messages. You might be thinking, “OK Bozo, why don’t you tell me something else I already know.” Instead of doing that I will share a tip that should help you find the talent that will actually aggregate eyeballs for your very specific cause.

Key Ingredient

I’ve noticed that the only key ingredient to finding someone that will actually get you more views and shares on your website is a basic web 2.0 litmus test. This test is really just a simple question: Do these creative individuals have their own side projects that are updated often? These could be blogs, personal promotional videos, photo streams, twitter feeds, etc… I guess what that really boils down to is passion. Really creative people are not as concerned with protecting their old content as they are with having the tools available to keep creating and sharing. This is the social world we live in now, and the people who are actually in the “trenches,” know what works and what doesn’t work on social media sites. They post and experiment enough to find out.

If you can see a huge body of work that isn’t commissioned you’ve probably found the person to hire. Anyone who is willing to spend large amount of free time creating professional quality work is going to be passionate about the job you higher them to do. This is the true sign of a digital craftsman. The kind of person who is thinking about how to string together words, images, motion, timing, etc… in their spare time will definitely come through with something amazing if they know their name is attached to your commissioned work. Think about it. This is their chance to get paid to have even more people interact with something they love. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Increased Traffic

I regularly monitor the web traffic for the skatepark website to see where we should be spending our limited resources when promoting this cause. Every time we have a custom piece of content created by one of these creative individuals there are giant spikes in the number of unique visits to the site.

Increase in Conversions

After posting our lasted promotional video we had a huge spike in online donations and volunteer sign ups on our website.

Increase in Social Activity

Using Facebook’s new insights it is really easy for us to tell what kind of content has been successful for us on the site. And it is pretty obvious when you see the number of shares and comments go through the roof.

Successful Media

These are examples of media that created the spikes in interaction charted above.

What to Avoid

More than anything else I’m encouraging everyone to avoid the commoditization of everything on the web. There are a couple people out there who accidentally create something that catches on through these social sites, but for the most part it is the really good content that actually gets passed around. What I think baffles everyone in the old media world is that this democratized form of media is truly more democratic. Coming from a world of distribution networks that had layer upon layer of gatekeeping, it was easy for these media companies to assume their media was being consumed because it was the best. When a youtube video takes off and they all think that new user generated content aggregation is the way they should now compete. They seem to be missing the point. Simply stepping up their game and producing the kind of content I will share with all of my friends is how to compete. Don’t make a crappy version of facebook, just make sure the people who are working for you are actually creative and not simply punching the clock. If we are moving in any direction it is away from being commoditized and into our own personal brands that have real value. Just look at the recent success of Klout.com.

I Fixed an iPhone!

For year’s I’ve thought of iPhones as these hermetically sealed little treasures that were impossible to be opened and fixed by mere mortals. After reading Steve Job’s biography I know that this is also the perception that Apple would like us to have about these amazing little devices. But, I’m living proof that you can open one up and fix it without the Apple gods striking you down from Mount Silicon.

Trust me, I would never try this on an iPhone that I relied on 100%. The only reason I was able to take this task on was that a friend gifted me an iPhone that was totally out of commission since he upgraded to a newer phone. Plus, this phone’s screen was already damaged. So, I bought the replacement glass online and went for it. I’m not going to bore myself or anyone else with the details of how this was accomplished. Anyone can easily search for and find 20 tutorials on how to do this. I guess having the opportunity to try this on a phone with little to no consequence is the real trick. I was lucky enough to have that chance. The only detail I think anyone would really like to know is that it took me about an hour to go through all of the steps required to have the phone working properly again.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the guts of an iPhone, enjoy the images above. I’m also not implying that YOU can do this too. So, don’t blame me if you mess it up! I’m just saying I was able to pull it off and I’m not a “Genius.”