Random Musings

The most successful brands, or at least the ones everyone emulates, successfully use design to produce an emotional coherence that spans content to product to experience. Think Apple or BMW or Chanel. Not everything has to look alike, but it all has to feel alike. Whenever we encounter them we get that familiar brand sensation. That tingling tells you it’s working.
Michael Rock in the NYT Now

I think a lot about the “self-branding” that each if us does when we use social media. Rock goes on to point out the obvious sort of post-modern, dystopic view of our overly-virtual lives—we create these brands as artifice, desperately seeking emotional connection from emoji and emoticons.

But I think there’s a less depressing view: The connections through these social media are an additional and richer layer to our interactions. We still have human contact, but now we have even more ways to sustain those IRL relationships. 

As for the branding, I think part of that is just trying to understand how we are perceived through digital media. It’s a new thing, and it’s still evolving. Haven’t we always been branding ourselves IRL? Now that we’re representing ourselves in digital form, maybe we have more to learn from those “successful brands” who’ve had to do this for much longer through their products. 

Here’s a good definition of what a brand is. 

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Random Musings

The trigger-happy practices of the police, not all police, but too many police, on the streets of black America should alert everyone to how profoundly adrift American democracy has become — attacking the poor as freeloaders and criminals, a distorted and grotesque ideological exaggeration of freedom over equality.

People who try to walk a mile in the shoes of the other, to live among and dedicate their lives to working with the oppressed, are also sensitive to the fact of their own privilege. They know they can never truly identify with them. They understand this paradox but it doesn’t paralyze them.

Caputo in conversation with George Yancy on race

Thoughts from philosopher John D. Caputo

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Random Musings

“We spend a lot of time at work. It should be fun.”

Evan Jacover’s thoughts on work culture from Built in Chicago

Evan Jacover’s Advice on Work Culture

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Hey, look, my WordCamp talk is now available online.

Random Musings

“I clicked on the owls, fearing that I would never again have a chance to see them; they were, to be fair, uniformly superb.”
New Yorker: 10 Paragraphs About Lists You Need in Your Life Right Now

Listicle Hysteria

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Random Musings

WSJ: The Action in a Baseball Game Is About 18 Minutes

This analysis would have been so much more valuable if it had accounted for suspense.

There’s a big difference between anticipation and boredom.

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Random Musings

WordPress Goes to College: A Case Study

Last weekend I had the honor to speak at WordCamp Chicago, an impeccably-run conference focused exclusively on users of WordPress. Seriously, it’s amazing how high quality the programming and organization were, considering the whole thing is run by volunteers.

Of course I learned a ton at the panels I attended, and it was immensely valuable to connect with so many smart and committed developers and webmasters. But all of this made it especially rewarding to share some of my own experience at my talk, “WordPress Goes to College: A Case Study.”

Specifically, the case study was about the WordPress website I recently launched for Erikson Institute, the graduate school where I work. Of course, I had a lot of help, particularly from the developer I was lucky to work with, Joachim Kudish. In fact, he was such a find that Automattic — the company started by the guys who originally built WordPress — snatched him up midway through the build. (While this certainly validated my choice of developer, the timing could’ve been better!)

Higher education websites tend to have a lot of moving parts, so Joey and I had to cook up a lot of interesting customizations, while still being careful to respect the core of WordPress. This is important, because one thing you don’t want is to update your WordPress and find out some of the customizations you built have been overwritten or are incompatible.

After that learning curve, I was eager to share some of the solutions we’d found. Sure, some things we learned may be specific to higher ed, but what I quickly realized as I wrote this talk is that the problems we were solving were applicable to any small organization with limited resources but a business-critical website.

Top Three Takeaways

  1. Work with good people.

    Find a developer you can work with, who not only has a compatible work style but also has a clear vision and excitement for your project.

  2. Free is never free.

    A little money goes a long way, particularly when you’re working with open source products. If your site depends on a particular feature, then it’s worth spending a little cash to get the extra support and customization.

  3. Curation, not automation.

    Think about your content. So much of what makes WordPress great is how easy it is to automate things — just list the last four blog posts, just stick the attached image above the post, etc. What we realized is that most of the important pages on our site needed to be carefully curated. Nothing is set and forget.

    By the way, we also found a great plugin for this, which got a lot of interest at my talk: Zone Manager (aka Zoninator).

    Slides from my talk are below, or you can download the PDF.

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