Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Digital Footprint

Most of us don't think to Google ourselves unless we're bored at work or have a narcissistic streak, but knowing how the internet "views you" can be extremely important. Seth Godin encouraged us all in 2008 to Google ourselves and see how other people are viewing us, and in many cases judging us by our Google search.

But where do you start? Some of us my have unique names, but when I changed my name to Smith I knew that I was joining the 10 pages of the phone book to be lost forever. Then the Internet took over for the phone book (although ironically enough Bethany Norris does come up with a few hits from college) and I became "findable again."

The key is Searching 101 - Boolean searches and quotation marks. Instead of just searching for Bethany Smith (which is by default a Boolean search of Bethany AND Smith) search for the text string "Bethany Smith", otherwise any webpage with the word Bethany and the word Smith somewhere on it will pop up. This text string narrows my search from 12,500,000 hits to 24,100. To narrow it further I can add some modifiers, such as NC or education, or even NCSU. Think about a person searching for you and what do they identify you with. If you've sent an employer a resume then they'd probably associate you with your last employer or your address.

Now once you google me with NC, you get my phone and address. To some people this is scary, becuase now you can bring up a Google Map and with street view can instantly see a picture of my house. You can even take this a step further and go to my local government website and find out how much I paid for my house and if I owe taxes. But this is all what I would call describer information, it provides the basic info surrounding me, but not really who I am. A background check can give you only so much info, it won't tell you if I'm actually good at anything.

So what is Identity? What defines us? One of my favorite videos for presentation purposes, Identity 2.0, begins to talk about the mechanisms we use to authenticate who we are, how these identity transactions that used to be in person with the exchange of a business card or the brandishing of an ID have now migrated to the Internet.

So are we what the Internet says we are? I like Seth Godin's recommendation, flood the internet with good stuff that you control. Create a Blog, a LinkedIn profile, a basic website so that the top hits on Google is info you have created and have control over. To take that a step further, I recommend that you stay consistent in your username ID. On every website I join, I use the same ID, bethanyvsmith. It is my Twitter name, what I use on Slideshare, Google, etc. This continuity allows not only for me to remember my login, but also to be "identified" by others. When I comment on someones website, etc. Bethany Smith begins to be associated with bethanyvsmith). You can use a service like Namechk to try out IDs that you might want use & if they are taken. You can also use a service like ClaimID to claim websites that you are associated with. I just joined this service, so we'll see how it helps with my Online Identity Management.

But in the end, how can I keep track of what is "out there" about me. My favorite tool is Google Alerts. Use the same search phrase that you perfected earlier in finding yourself and have Google search for it on a regular basis, then you can have a scheduled e-mail, or constant RSS feed to keep you in the loop.

We are on this presipise of personal information overload on the Internet, for some of us it's already there, and for others it is coming. While some want to fight it and remove themselves from the Internet, I say embrace it for what it is and put your own spin on it. We must start the good PR about ourselves and recognize that on the internet your name is a personal brand, protect it well. As Kim Cofino says, "Who do you want your Digital Me to Be?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Changing the way I present - with a little zen along the way

I taught a "Presentation Zen" Workshop the other day that was very well received & probably was the most popular of my workshops this year. I was surprised about the continuing obsession with PowerPoint & the crutch that it gives us all as speakers. In creating this workshop I went through the various styles of presenting that I have experimented with & what worked & what didn't.

In 2007 I saw Wil Richardson present for the first time at NECC in San Diego. Not only was I impressed with what he said - it was how he said it. He was using the Lessig method of black background with one word in white text & it just totally threw me for a loop. It was powerful, it was simple - it was brilliant! It took me a while, but I finally got the guts to make it and presented at NCaect - now NCTies. I had a really difficult time presenting this way - I think I made it too simple & I kept going off topic. That was the when I realized that this presenting method required many more slides that I normally would create. In fact each bullet point became their own slide.

Then I watched this amazing presentation online by Dick Hart about Identity 2.0. Now this is a much more scripted lecture than I could ever give - but I really like it and wanted to do something that evoked that.

I'm trying to remember where and when I first came across Presentation Zen & how that changed everything. I think it was when David Warlick came to a MEGA meeting and talked about blogging. He was such a great speaker, and his presentation slides enhanced the experience. So I started to see what others were doing and ended up creating my own presentations in this presentation zenlike style.

I found these presentation rather time consuming. I really had to think about what I was presenting - I found myself outlining on a good old notebook before I started. What was even more challenging was trying to find images that represented my words. A few tools helped along the way like Flickr Storm & but it was still challenging to think of the right keyword to search. I also needed to make sure that these images were Creative Common Liscenced, which thankfully Flickr has added as an advanced search feature. Yet the process of finding the perfect feature helped me hone down what I was really talking about and has made me a better presenter. One of my favorites is this one I did on PLNs.

Of course in the middle of all this I see that the edublogger world storm around using stock images. Dan Meyer started it :) but I think it got a good deal of people including Darren Draper & Dean Shareski thinking about image use. As much as Dan claims that stock images are so typical - I remember back to my old public speaking teacher - remember your audience. There are some times that stock images appeal to your audience & times when they don't. I though that when presenting on my thesis at SITE this year I should be more formal and go back to the black slide with white writing & yeah it was OK - but the reaction my friend Lisa Hervey got when using stock images was just much better received. I wish I hadn't been scared to be different in an academic setting.

My goal when I present is to be memorable (hopefully in a good way) & I find that using good and effective images is the key to that. Personally I prefer flickr to istockphoto, but it is hard to find good images - I say use what you can. Any step that we can take to make presenting a more enjoyable experience is worth it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Customizing your Ning

I asked to do some customization of a ning for an outreach project to meet the "graphical identity" of the university. I was really inspired by how well the NECC Ning works works with the NECC main website. But upon investigation (I downloaded their CSS) I discovered they had done more customized things that I was capable of accomplishing. So I set out to customize an existing theme using some of the built in options availablt to Ning.

Step 1: Find a Theme to work with
I decided that HyperMelon gave me the overall look I was going for, just with the wrong colors.

Step 2: Define your color palette
Luckily the web colors for the university and this project had already been decided upon. I used

Red (NC State Red) Web cc0000
Gold Web f2991b
Burnt Orange Web cc6600
Dark Red Web a20000

If you don't have any colors already determined. I recommend using the Visibone Color Lab, not only does this help with matching colors and finding their "web number" it also helps you check readibility for boxes.

Step 3: Changing Colors
Most of your changes will occur in the "All Options" section under appearance. I highly recommend using the Preview function so you can see what these color changes impact. For instance the "Media Player" section actually impacts your badge colors.

Step 4: Changing Theme Colors
However, to change the actual theme options I had to click on the "Advanced Tab" and edit the CSS. The trick with this is to only change the colors, but it can be tough to determine what you are actually changing the colors on. I typically use colors as a guide. I search for the colors in the CSS and look up the number for the color. Then I look at my theme and see where that color is and if it is something I want to change. I'm not sure about all themes, but I imagine the CSS terms are univeral. So I changed the following in HyperMelon:

#xg_masthead p#xg_sitedesc - Changes the Site Description (or Sub head) color
#xg_navigation ul li.this a - Changes the Rollover/Click on the Navigation Bar at the top

Step 5: Adding a Header Image
Header Images need to have a width of 955 and can have a height of 150-200. I found that the theme I was working on actually required a header image height of 125. Since the Site Name and description take up the left side of the Header, you really need to focus your efforts on the right hand side of the header. Also, if you are using logos, I find that the readibility of them goes up if you use a PNG file rather than a GIF file. Once you have your header image you can uload it under the "All Options" under Appearnace.

Overall it took a lot of trial and error, but I think we actually have a Ning that reflects NC State. I hope to announce it soon!