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E-books for Social Strategy

E-books and e-readers are a growing part of the attention ecosystem. Long-form journalism is finding new legs through social recommendation (#longform, #longreads) and time-shifting apps. Nonprofits struggling to communicate complex issues in 140 characters can benefit from deploying e-books and other long-form content as part of a thoughtful mobile and social media strategy.

Who is reading?

Owners of e-reading devices have similar profiles to audiences most nonprofits are trying to reach for fundraising. According to a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life report, The Rise of E-Reading:

Compared with all Americans 16 and older, “e-reading device owners” are more likely to live in high income households and have more educational experience, and are also much more likely to be more tech-savvy in general… more likely to read in general, and to read a book on a typical day… more avid readers of newspapers and magazines than other Americans, and are more likely to read long-form content of any kind for pleasure. (emphasis mine)

29% of Americans age 18 and older own at least one specialized device for e-book reading – either a tablet or an e-book reader.

Also, it bears stating the obvious: smartphones are also e-readers. Don't think of e-books as being read exclusively by owners of dedicated e-readers like the Kindle or Nook, but instead think of any mobile screen. The audience for an e-book may be larger than you thought. 

What content makes sense?

As chronicled in Forbes.com and elsewhere, long-form writing on the web is making a comeback. Many readers are using time-shifting apps to collect web content and read it later. In addition to purposefully written longer articles on your website, e-books are an opportunity to reach your audience with long-form content. Examples of content that could be produced in e-book format or targeted to long-form readers include:

  • Strategic planning documents (audience: potential board members, funders)
  • Annual reports (audience: board members, major donors, individual donors)
  • How to guides for volunteers
  • Action kits for activists
  • Extended versions of stories you already tell in abbreviated form: people your organization has helped, backstories on issues, extended interviews with volunteers, etc.
  • Compilations of blog articles on a particular topic, such as work in a particular country or region, or stories related to a particular event. See this recent tweet from the White House, linking to a #longform article about the Joplin tornados.

Depending on the organization, other opportunities may present themselves. For example, distributing an exclusive work (or excerpt) by a well-known author in e-book format may be a way to generate donations or signups. Furthermore, new outlets for long-form journalism (Atavist, Longform.org, Longreads, MatterPostDesk (UK), among others), should be part of your media planning.

TheNextWeb.com blogger Alex Wilhelm writes that "Long-form content is headed back to the business model of the pamphlet, with short works selling at low price points and in large quantity." According to Wilhelm, the key success factors for e-books are: locational convenience, formatting, and curation.

"By locational convenience I mean that people [with e-readers] often use them where they lack an Internet connection (the train). Therefore, to have something downloaded and ready to go is a real value. In regards to formatting, most ereading devices have browsing capabilities, but that doesn’t mean that they render pages well, or quickly. A well formatted ebook has none of those issues. Finally, curation means that things are assembled in a very specific way to give a cohesive and user-friendly experience."

An example of this kind of content curation is veteran nonprofit blogger Colin Delany's recent e-book, How Campaigns Can Use the Internet to Win in 2012, available in Kindle-optimized format via Amazon.com, and as a free PDF.

Why is formatting important?

As a consumer (not a standards expert), my experience is that PDF meets only the minimal requirements to be called an e-book, mainly for reasons of usability. While almost every e-reader can display PDFs, the end-user has no control over text size, background color, pagination, and other aspects of the the reading experience that make e-books a compelling medium. This is especially true for smartphones (currently your largest potential e-reader audience), where reading PDFs is possible but very tedious, with each page requiring zooming and scrolling.

How to publish an e-book?

Unfortunately, there isn't one publication standard that works across all e-readers. The major purveyors of e-book platforms (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble) all want to make it easy for you to produce content, and make it sound as easy as uploading HTML or Word Documents. Because Amazon.com has the largest audience of e-readers, many independent publishers with limited time and energy are going the route of publishing in Amazon's Kindle-optimized format. One of the long-form content aggregators mentioned above, Atavist, offers a publication platform that looks promising.

If you are looking for deeper examination of the fragmented state of e-book publication standards, Nick Disabato fires a #longform broadside from A List Apart in two parts: the current state, and a look to the future. Nonprofits with limited resources would certainly benefit from industry adoption of standards as he urges.

Are you already making use of e-books and #longform content? Please let us know in the comments.

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Mobilize Those Mobile Eyes

Posted by Guest Blogger at Mar 09, 2012 11:13 AM CST
Categories: Accessibility, Fundraising, NPtech, Productivity, Technology

Confession time: not more than ten years ago I was one of those people who said I would never have a cell phone. I simply did not want to be that accessible, I would say.

But one recent weekend morning, when I found myself walking around the house with an iPhone in the pocket of my bathrobe, I knew the assimilation was complete.

I am one of the nearly half of all Americans who now own not just a cell phone, but a smartphone, according to the latest Pew research. That’s a lot of eyeballs.

If your organization is thinking about starting or deepening mobile engagement with your constituents who, like me, are rarely out of arms-reach of their mobile device, then allow me to summarize my takeaways from the Nonprofit Mobile Day event I recently attended, presented by the Direct Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Federation (DMANF).

And if your organization isn’t thinking about these things, it might just be time to wake up, put on the ol’ bathrobe, and smell the coffee.

Know the possibilities
“Mobile” isn’t just one thing, it is many. Today, the term “mobile” covers four primary types of engagement:

  • Mobile messaging: sending text messages to your constituents
  • Text-to-give: enabling your constituents to text a $5 or $10 donation to your organization, paid via their mobile bill
  • Mobile Web: presenting content and engagement opportunities in a way that is optimized for mobile device browsers, including things like donation forms and advocacy action forms
  • Mobile Apps: taking your place beside Angry Birds and Flixster with packaged content or functionality

Beyond these four primary uses of the mobile channel, there are other possibilities:

  • Mobile advertising: placing your ads on other people’s mobile Web sites or in their apps
  • QR codes: enabling constituents to use the camera on their mobile device to snap a picture of a special bar code that then directs them to a mobile landing page or phone number
  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS): sending multimedia via text, such as photos or video
  • Augmented reality: taking advantage of the mobile device’s camera, compass, and GPS to overlay content or features on what the user “sees”. Think of apps like Pocket Universe that let you point your camera at the night sky and see an overlay of constellations and planets drawn on the screen.
  • Responsive design: new capabilities made possible through HTML5 and CSS3 that blur the line between mobile Web sites and apps. For an example, browse to the Financial Times site on your mobile device.
  • Phone calls: and, oh yeah, a lot of these mobile devices also have this thing called a telephone on them. This can also be great way to communicate with your constituents.

These are the different facets of the mobile channel to consider as you think about engaging with your constituents via mobile. In part 2, I’ll cover who the players are you can to bring to the table to help you harness these capabilities, and talk about creating a mobile plan.

Guest post by Watt Hamlett, Lead Solutions Engineer with Convio. He loves working with nonprofit organizations to help them access the strategies, software, and services they need to achieve their goals.

Watt Hamlett

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The Right Way to Wireframe - A New Website for Lend4Health from SXSW

Posted by at Mar 14, 2010 04:16 PM CDT
Categories: Accessibility, Content Management, NPtech, Technology, Usability

"Opening the kimono" and seeing the ins and outs of wireframing for web information architecture is something many of us never actually get to see. Seeing the "behind-the-scenes" work that goes into sketching, laying out and setting up the foundation for a web site is not well shared in the industry, but in the session "The Right Way to Wireframe" at this year's SXSWi, Todd Zaki Warfel and Russ Unger worked to change that.

For the layman web user or designer, you might be asking - why is wireframing important? Well, wireframing is the foundation of your web site, and thus one of the most important aspects any web site should focus on in the beginning stages of formation or redesign. Having worked on full-scale web designs, I was intrigued to see what some of the leaders in the industry had to say about wireframing and user research for web design -- an imperative aspect for nonprofits I might add as every organization should have a web site designed for optimal user experience and effectiveness.

The great part about the workshop was that the speakers worked with Lend4Health, a nonprofit focused on micro-loans for health issues and children, run by one woman (Tori Tuncan) out of her home to use as the focus for their work. Tori is currently using a BlogSpot, one page website. Tori knew she needed a more effective website and got paired up with a set of Information Architects/User Experience experts to help come up with ideas and wireframes of a new site for her nonprofit organization.  Oh, and they were concurrently competing with each other on how the others would approach the project and the tools they would use, not sharing an information with each other along the way.

The Goal: turn her website into multi-page, effective web site that would allow her to handle the volume of work that was coming her way.

This video shows one of the processes from start to end, looking at sketching to actual technical design (sans the first 10 seconds of the video).

All in all, the main elements the speakers harped on included:

  • Any process always begins with RESEARCH! -->interviews, remote observation
  • Research should be put into all aspects of your design and structure
  • Sketching before using creating any final design or wireframe is crucial (dump all your ideas out on paper before embarking on any actual draft)
  • Use persona- based roles when thinking about how people will interact with your web site
  • You'll still begin to uncover new/different "stuff" as you begin to wireframe
  • After you hand sketch out, then you can introduce the technology to help with the technical design (true wireframe)
  • Pitch and Critique the work in front of a group of peers (iterate based on feedback)
  • The technology you use for this work, the actual software for wireframing, isn't important. It's the communication of the elements you want to portray that's important.

And, one of my personal favorite quotes from the panel that I thought worthwhile to share"If you're not considering mobile on your site in 2010, what's wrong with you?"

The session was chock full of great information for anyone interested in gaining perspective on what goes into a user experience research and information architecture on the web. The presenters were able to show how they're working to "change the world through design" one day at a time.

So what about you? Are there any great tips you have for information architchture work? Or any questions you have about the work for the experts out there? 


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Is my site accessible?

Posted by Lacey Kruger at Jun 18, 2009 01:55 PM CDT
Categories: Accessibility

Chances are, you already know how important it is to have an accessible web site. I’ll spare you a lecture on that subject here by reminding you that your site should, most definitely, be accessible.

So, how do you know if it is? Is it enough to have alt tags on your images? Do you have to install a screen reader to test and see? I attended an awesome session on accessibility at the UPA conference and the folks over at Fidelity Investments shared some great questions to use to test out your site:

  1. Can you navigate your site using just your keyboard? (Hint: use the TAB key)
  2. Is all graphic and audio/visual content also represented in text somehow? Is that text an equivalent substitute?
  3. Is your information architecture, or hierarchy, represented in the code? So, if I see something as a heading, is it also represented that way in the code?
  4. Is your content all flexible, scalable and legible for various browsers, font size settings and screen resolutions? Test out a few different options to see.
  5. Will the content read in the correct order? If you disable CSS, can you still make sense of the order of what you’re reading? (Note: This is also known as separating content from design)
  6. Have all the form fields and buttons or controls been labeled properly?

These questions are a great starting point or quick-test to see if you have some issues to address. Working toward an accessible site from an exisiting site can take a great deal of time. If you’re redesigning, remember to keep accessibility at the forefront so you can avoid retroactive changes to make your site accessible. Can you think of any other considerations for accessibility? Feel free to add in the comments.

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The Text Resizer Debate

Posted by Brandy Reppy at May 07, 2009 11:57 AM CDT
Categories: Accessibility, Usability

In a recent meeting, my team and I were taking a look at some wireframes and design comps for some current projects. Over the course of the discussions, a point was raised regarding the ever-popular “text resizer”, typically denoted with three capital A’s or plus and minus signs, denoting either a quick way to make the text larger, smaller, or reset to the original size. This practice, viewed most commonly as an accessibility feature, is probably one that you’ve seen on a few websites here and there, and maybe even played around with from time to time. But the debate in the meeting was whether or not this should be considered a best practice for website implementation. My answer, decidedly, is no.

The Argument

As you may or may not know, I compete with a team of other Convions in accessible website competitions. Because of this, I’ve spent what I’d imagine is a bit more time than most looking into features like this, trying to figure out what makes the most sense for users. And while I can still see some merits to including these components, I did want to outline a few reasons why I don’t encourage their use.

They are Unnecessary

Every major browser has native support for text resizing and page zoom. Individual websites who don’t provide on-site resizers are still able to be resized using the functionality inherent in the web browser itself. Spending time developing the functionality within the site is not a wasted effort by any means, but is redundant. Because of this, and for several other reasons, there is also a movement to provide information to users as to how they can resize web text in general. Check out the articles (and comments) about this practice at 456 Berea Street where Roger Johansson recommends scrapping text resize widgets and teaching people how to resize text or over at Accessify where Ian Lloyd talks about how to teach a man to fish (or how to resize text).

They are Difficult to Implement Correctly

In his article Developing an effective text-resizing widget, Joe Dolson states that, "A well-implemented text-resizer should not create issues." After that, he delves into five common considerations that need to be addressed when developing a text resizer. If you couple these issues with the added complexity of content management systems and form templates, you end up with a pretty major undertaking for functionality that already exists within the browser. (Note: For the sake of brevity, I won't get started on using ems instead of pixels to accommodate cross-browser differences.)

They Can Break Designs

Sure, we can test and retest text resizers, but the fact is that a lot of times, they will break a beautiful design. When it comes to website design, there's not a lot that is more disappointing than seeing a your work smashed to smithereens by a text resizing widget that breaks the framework. There are a lot of reasons why this can happen, and most can be solved with proper testing, but it's unfortunate to see a site rendered nearly unusable because of a built-in text widget.

The Cross

With all this being said, I do also want to include the argument for text resizers, because I realize there is still a case for why they are beneficial. I don't know if I've seen a much better argument than this one articulate by Grant Broome, entitled Text size widgits - quite useful actually. I will concede that there are elements of text resizers that, if implemented correctly and tested properly, can be really useful. I don't know if I've seen enough resizers that were implemented well to get totally on-board with this, but then again, I'm not exactly the target audience for the widget to begin with.

Wrap Up

My biggest concern with text resizers is what purpose they are meant to serve. I have too often seen text widgets serve as compensatory measures for bad designs and unreadable text. My main argument isn't that the widget is unusable. Rather, I'm opposed to the idea that the ends justify the means; simply implementing a widget like this doesn't get a site off the hook for looking at other usability and accessibility practices that are more effective for the site. Considering, however, that even my team can't fully agree on this issue, I'm sure some of you out there have opinions, too. Please feel free to leave your thoughts - and in the meantime, if you are having trouble reading this, try hitting Ctrl + +.

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