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Design Thinking and finding True Love

Posted in all posts, design, presentation by coleman yee on November 21, 2009

My second presentation at Barcamp today was entitled “Design Thinking and finding True Love”.

It was really just an introduction to Design Thinking, but I added the “finding true love” part just to make things a little more fun.

Here are the slides:

My slides don’t give very much information, so I hope to add in more explanation to this post another time. If there’s enough demand 😉

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For smart geeks: How to explain difficult concepts to lesser beings

Posted in all posts, education, learning, presentation, usability by coleman yee on November 21, 2009

I did a talk at Barcamp this morning entitled “For smart geeks: How to explain difficult concepts to lesser beings”.

It was quite well-received, and here are the promised slides.

As with my usual presentations, my slides don’t say very much, but if I get the time, I’ll add in more details to this post.

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3 levels of blogger engagement strategy

Posted in all posts, blogging by coleman yee on October 4, 2009

As part of their marketing and PR strategy, many companies and their PR agencies have been courting bloggers. The basic objective is essentially the same – more publicity for the company or product.

Level 1: what’s in it for us (the company)

Whether it’s more publicity hopefully leading to more sales, or just gaining community goodwill, it’s taken for granted that the company should have something to gain through the blogger engagement.

However, if the company is working on this level alone, it can never be effective in it’s blogger engagement strategy.

It has to move to the next level…

Level 2: what’s in it for the blogger

The savvier companies are strong in this mindset. They fully understand that the blogger must have something to gain before they will engage.

This could be an event with good food and drinks and great company (other interesting bloggers), it could be a product launch where the blogger gets to be the first to try out the product that they’re interested in, or it could be some competition where the blogger has a good chance of winning fabulous prizes.

If the company’s offer is sufficiently valuable to the blogger, then there’s a good chance that the blogger will blog about it.

If this seems a little risky (“what if the blogger doesn’t blog about it?”), you can always get the blogger to agree to blog…

Agreeing to blog

Advertorials or sponsored posts come under this category, where the blogger agrees to blog about the company/product for a payment. A good and reputable blogger will always disclose to their readers if a post is sponsored, so don’t bother asking bloggers to hide the fact.

Competitions or challenges also work, where blogging about the company/product is part of the competition, e.g. the funniest post on this brand of potato chips wins.

Of recent days, we’ve also seen competitions where the contestants are a few selected bloggers agree to take part in it. Examples include the Soyjoy GI Challenge and the Blogathon.

While many of these blogger engagement attempts have been quite interesting and successful, some bloggers, particularly the most reputable ones, tend to be resistant to anything that puts them in a position where they have to agree to blog.

To reach these bloggers, companies have to think about moving on to the next level…

Level 3: what’s in it for the blogger’s readers

What companies need to be thinking a lot harder about is how they can help the blogger give more value to their readers.

Popular bloggers understand implicitly that they must provide value to their readers every time they hit the “post” button – be it informational value (wow I didn’t know that!) or entertainment value (LOL!) etc. They’ve built up their large following only because of the value they’ve been giving to their readers.

Many successful blogger engagement activities actually do give bloggers the opportunity to bring value to their readers, but these are often incidental, e.g. inviting the blogger to an exclusive unveiling of a new phone – the readers benefit by being among the first to learn about the phone.

The easiest and most obvious way to benefit the bloggers’ readers is to give out gifts or prizes through the blogger. The Soyjoy GI Challenge and Blogathon (mentioned earlier) have components of this. The Soyjoy one, for instance, had a challenge where the blogger-contestants’ readers could ask for free Soyjoy bars to be delivered to their workplaces.

Another way is to make it easier for the blogger to blog about the company/product. I’m reminded of this Canon digital camera event for bloggers, where they gave every blogger an SD card to keep. The bloggers could freely test out the cameras, saving the photos they captured in those SD cards (see this short post by Claudia.sg “Finally Someone Got It!“).

I’m sure there are many other ways that companies can think of that will not only benefit themselves, the bloggers, but also the bloggers’ readers.

And that’s really why I’m writing this – I hope this will spur more companies into paying more attention to this aspect of blogger engagement. Do let me know if you have some ideas in this. The wilder the better 🙂

Special thanks to my deep-thinking colleagues at Digital Boomerang who gave me this idea.

Joining Digital Boomerang

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on July 4, 2009

I’ve recently joined Digital Boomerang (Singapore) as a Web Consultant. My name card says “Web Shaman” – I guess that’s the guy you go to when you have some web problems you can’t solve, and a bit of magic might help.

The company got onto my radar screen over 2 years ago, when they sent one of their new staff to Russ Weakley’s CSS Workshop, something very few small web companies would do. After a bit of further research, I put them on my mental possibly-good-web-company list.

My more recent research revealed that they’re not just a good web company.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has dealt with them only had good things to say about them. Which is no surprise, because they really set out to make their clients love them. Some of their ex-clients even mentioned that they wouldn’t mind joining the company if they could.

Which is no surprise if you knew their culture and values.

We all know and probably have worked in companies that claim that “our people are our most important resource”, but few companies actually act like they really believe in it. As far as I can tell, Digital Boomerang truly believes in this and works hard at proving it.

I’m honored to be part of the Digital Boomerang gang. Hope to work some magic soon.

Accessibility on Singapore Government websites

Posted in accessibility, all posts, education, internet, policy, Singapore, web by coleman yee on June 30, 2009

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has a reply on today’s Straits Times forum (“More accessibility soon for e-govt sites“) recognizing the need for more accessibility on government websites.

This is a small but positive development for me, as I’ve been advocating website accessibility for years, particularly for government websites.

What is website accessibility

For those who are not familiar with web accessibility, it’s simply about making a website accessible or usable or “viewable” by different web browsers and devices, and thus accessible by the widest possible audience, including those with disabilities.

For instance, an accessible website would be usable by a screen reader, a special software that reads aloud what’s on the screen and browser, thus enabling a blind person to access that website.

Website accessibility is thus often associated with making a website accessible to users with disabilities, particularly the blind.

Conversely, if a blind user cannot access certain information on a website using a screen reader, that website is considered not accessible.

Web accessibility is also about access by devices like mobile phone browsers, or even browsers other than Internet Explorer like Firefox, Safari, or Opera.

The accessibility of Singapore Government websites

When you surf around Singapore Government websites on a non-Internet Explorer browser, you sometimes encounter a message telling you that you can’t continue unless you’re using Internet Explorer.

That’s not an accessible website.

Whole populations of Singaporeans are being excluded from such online government services simply because they use a Mac instead of a PC, or because they don’t wish to use (the technically inferior) Internet Explorer.

And we’re not even talking about access by small screen devices like mobile phones, or access by disabled users. The situation is far worse for them.

There are a number of causes for the general lack of accessibility of Singapore Government websites, which I shall explore in the following sections.

People don’t know about web accessibility

The basic problem is that there’s simply a general lack of awareness of website accessibility, not just in the general population of web users, but among people who should know better. More on this below.

Singapore’s horrific web education

My use of “horrific” is not hyperbole. Almost all the web design courses I’ve encountered on web design has little or no coverage on web accessibility, even though it is one of the core issues in web development. It’s like studying to be a doctor without learning about the skeletal system, or learning to drive without learning the road signs.

Put simply, you’re not a competent web person if you don’t know web accessibility.

This situation began because we hired teachers who were not web competent in the first place. Guess what? Their students turn out incompetent too.

We now have a whole ecosystem of incompetent web people. But we don’t know it because nobody dies from an incompetent web developer, unlike doctors or drivers.

It’s not a Singapore Government-wide requirement

As mentioned in the forum reply, IDA introduced the Web interface standards (WIS) in 2004 for government wide implementation.

In the WIS (I’m quite familiar with it), IDA does recommend that government websites be accessible, but does not require it. In reality, these recommendations are usually ignored. Including those on web accessibility.

Government agencies don’t demand it

Almost all Singapore Government websites are built by external web vendors, not in-house by the government agency themselves. When a government agency wants a new website, they would lay down the specifications for the vendor to follow.

One of the usual specs would be to follow the WIS. But since accessibility isn’t a requirement in the WIS, the vendors generally don’t pay attention to it.

Of course, the agency can always make accessibility a requirement for their website. But that rarely happens. Largely due to the lack of awareness and poor web education.

Web vendors and developers don’t do it (well)

Even if a government agency does ask for their website to be accessible, many web vendors don’t do it properly.

Quite simply, many web developers in Singapore are simply not competent. While the horrific web education is to blame, the ultimate responsibility lies with the web developers themselves.

As web professionals, web developers should know that the field has moved on since they’ve finished school, so they need to keep themselves abreast of developments.

But most have not done so, resulting in incompetent web developers and vendors.

I’ve even seen vendors that claim to be able to make a website accessible, or even claim to specialize in it. Most of them don’t live up to their claims.

Unfortunately because of the widespread incompetence, most agencies aren’t able to properly evaluate the work of the vendors, so they don’t know how (in)accessible the sites really are.

The exceptions – competent web vendors and developers

There are exceptions, thankfully.

I’ve met many web developers who love their craft, keep themselves updated, and of course are completely competent. A good place to find them is through the Web Standards Group Singapore.

I’ve also encountered web vendors that are competent and believe in web accessibility. These are vendors that will make a website accessible for their client whether the client asks for it or not.

It’s just the right thing to do.

Moving forward

Unfortunately, exceptions are still exceptions. The average web vendor will not care about web accessibility unless they have to, since it’s a lot more effort for them given their incompetence. (However it’s not much more effort for the competent web professional.)

Government-wide web accessibility can only be achieved if it’s mandatory. Thus I hope that the next review of the WIS will make accessibility a requirement, not just a toothless recommendation.

From the non-committal tone of IDA’s forum reply, I’m pessimistic that this would happen, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Accessible government websites are already a legal requirement in most developed countries for years. Singapore is way, way behind in this.

It’s time to boldly step forward.

* * *

Here’s a copy of IDA’s reply on the Straits Times forum, published June 30, 2009 Tuesday:

More accessibility soon for e-govt sites

I REFER to Ms Chia Woon Yee’s letter last Wednesday, ‘Ensure e-govt websites are disabled-friendly’.

Since 2004, the Government has introduced a set of Web interface standards (WIS) to make government websites easier to use and provide a more consistent experience of navigating across different government websites. Under the WIS, government agencies are required to adopt a set of mandatory standards and recommended guidelines for designing their websites and online services.

The guidelines include catering to the needs of the disabled by adopting World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). We recognise the importance of ensuring universal access and will review our WIS against the recently released WCAG 2.0.

We also note Ms Chia’s feedback on the e-government services website. We are in the midst of updating both the http://www.gov.sg and eCitizen portals. As part of the update, we will look into incorporating more Web accessibility features in these portals.

We thank Ms Chia for her feedback.

Ng Sook Fun (Ms)
Director, Corporate and Marketing Communication
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore

Moving on…

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on May 11, 2009

After over 2 years at PebbleRoad, it’s time for me to move on.

My ride there as a Design Consultant has been nothing short of incredible. The challenging projects and problems, the stimulating debates and conversations – these have added up to become an intensive learning experience and journey.

For a small company, PebbleRoad’s achievements are disproportionate to their size (the rather unbelievable client list should give some indication of their abilities). I highly recommend their services (no, I’m not getting an extra bonus for saying this!).

What next?

I’m pretty fortunate as I’ve already been approached by a few people and companies interested in working with me, despite the current economic situation.

As of now, I’m keeping my options wide open and exploring whatever opportunities that are coming along.

So if you know of any opportunities that I should be considering, do drop me a note at colemanyee at gmail dot com.

P.S. now that I have a bit more time, my blogging frequency should increase!

Barcamp Singapore 3

Posted in all posts, events, IA, powerpoint, presentation by coleman yee on February 28, 2009

Despite my heavy schedule these few weeks, I had to attend and speak at Barcamp Singapore 3 because it was held at my previous workplace – the Teaching & Learning Centre at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. My presentation was entitled “How to bluff your way through an interview on Information Architecture”, which was really just to introduce what IA is, why it’s important and what kind of value it adds, and a little on how an information architect goes about doing their work. The slides are on slideshare – make sure that you’re viewing the Notes tab below the slides, otherwise it won’t make much sense. Slideshare: How to bluff your way through an interview on Information Architecture Brian Koh liveblogged my session, and had a very nice comment at the end:

That’s it! From the people next to me. “That’s the most educational talk i’ve heard at Barcamp.” “IA is awesome!”

All I hoped for was for more people to know about IA, because I believe it’s important – I never expected anyone to think that IA is awesome. It was also great that quite a number of people came up to me to thank me after the presentation. These were all really nice. Later on towards the evening, I decided to do another presentation, since there was a free slot. It was an old presentation I used to do on the use of Powerpoint, entitled “The Princess, the Witch, and the Powerpoint“. That one never fails to entertain. Updates: Chin Yong has a great summary of my session. He also mentioned:

The presentation style of Coleman was entertaining and educational. I give him a two thumbs up. And of course, he already given himself 2 thumbs up pointing at himself everytime he mention “Good Information Architect”

The pointing at myself part was just me trying to be funny. At sgentrepreneurs, Ian Timothy had some very generous comments:

This was, perhaps, the most educational session I ever experienced at any of such events. Coleman isn’t just knowledgeable, he is charming and a great presenter with the right amount of humor. If there was a way to attach an affiliate link to the polar bear book and for the audience to purchase the book on the spot, Coleman would have cleared a fair amount of commission that day. Yes, he was that good.

Like I said, he was very generous. Just in case you can’t find the notes on slideshare. The notes start from slide 2.

Make sure you view the notes!

Make sure you view the notes!

Just starting my IA presentation – my first slide (photo by sgentrepreneurs):

IA presentation

Me showing a content inventory during the IA presentation (photo by Claudia Lim):

During my IA presentation - showing a content inventory

IA presentation

My audience at my IA presentation (photo by Lagoona Loire):

The people at my IA presentation

 IA presentation audience

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What makes a sustainable social networking site

Posted in all posts, social software, web by coleman yee on January 3, 2009

Over the past couple of years, the successes of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have captured the imagination of many. Maybe too many.

In the past year or so, I’ve met quite a number of people building or working on social networking sites.

Most of those sites aren’t too compelling, even if some of them are enjoying moderate success now. If I were an investor, most of them wouldn’t get a single cent from me. Maybe just two cents – in the form of advice.

So, which types of social networking site would I invest in?

To put it another way, what kinds social networking sites are truly sustainable?

Sustainable #1: All-Inclusive Social Network

These are the social networks that try to cater to the largest and widest audience, to include anyone and everyone, and they probably hope to have everyone in the world on their site.

Like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and many others.

If I were to invest in a social network, I would consider investing in an All -Inclusive Social Network. But it had better be good. Really good. In fact, before users will consider flocking over to it, that new social network has to be at least an order of magnitude better than Facebook, like how Facebook is better than Friendster, with Facebook’s far superior usability and extensibility (where developers can create Facebook apps to extend its functionality).

If it’s hard to imagine a social network that’s an order of magnitude better than Facebook, it’s even harder to build one, not to mention terribly risky as well.

We thus might want to consider more palatable alternatives, like Exclusive Social Networks.

Sustainable #2: Exclusive Social Network

I’m using “exclusive” for lack of a better word (I almost wanted to use “repellent”).

An Exclusive Social Network is one where members or insiders don’t want to mix with non-members or outsiders, or don’t want outsiders to know who they are.

Exclusive Social Networks would include those for the rich, famous and powerful, like aSmallWorld, where the members don’t really want to many mere mortals like us to be bothering them with friend requests; or the US spy social network (A-Space).

A child porn network would be a good example too (although I don’t know of any), as are social networks for other kinds of secret societies.

Closely related and somewhat overlapping with the Exclusive Social Network is the Alternate Persona Social Network.

Sustainable #3: Alternate Persona Social Network

Again, “alternate persona” is not ideal, but will have to suffice for now.

An Alternate Persona Social Network is one where the member takes on a persona that is different or even incompatible with their persona used in the All-Inclusive Social Network.

Examples include:

  • LinkedIn, where members display their professional personas, versus their drunken party Facebook personas.
  • SecondLife, where members use their fantasy personas (hardly anyone there is short, fat, or balding).
  • Ridemakerz, where members become custom toy cars (for kids) – fantasy personas as well.
  • Dating sites, where members may project a different side of their personalities. Dating sites could also fall under the previous (“exclusive”) category, if they don’t want friends to know they are trawling the internet for more “friends”…

Unsustainable: Niche Social Network

This is really the flamebait part of my post, as those people working on Niche Social Networks probably won’t like my ideas here.

Niche Social Networks are social networks that cater to a certain niche, but don’t fall into any of the sustainable categories mentioned above.

They may have special features, or cater to specific audiences or activities, like social networks that center around

  • photos (like Flickr)
  • videos (like Seesmic)
  • mobile phone access
  • books
  • sports
  • etc.

Take Flickr for example. While not considered a social networking site by everyone, it is certainly one of the most popular photo sharing sites around. Except that Facebook has already overtaken it in terms of photos uploaded.

That’s despite Flickr having more useful photo features, like hi-res photos, more powerful tagging, and so on. If Facebook implements some of these features, Flickr’s position will be further threatened.

Same with the other Niche Social Networks – much of their success depends on Facebook’s deficiencies – which puts them in a rather precarious position.

The unfortunate thing is, most of the social networks that I see people working on now belong to this category. Some of them have pretty decent products with great features backed by great technology. I wouldn’t bet on them.

Which reminds me of someone I know who developed a really nice book-centered social networking site, BookJetty. I was a happy user of it, until I added a book sharing app on Facebook, which was when I stopped using BookJetty. This is despite the fact that that Facebook app is far inferior in terms of features and usability.

If you can’t beat em…

There’s still hope for the Niche Social Network.

One way to survive or even thrive is just to develop a Facebook app to complement or replace the Niche Social Network.

For instance, if Flickr had a well-integrated Flickr Facebook app that is as fast and as easy to use as Facebook’s native photo features, but with the additional Flickr features, I’d use it. And because Flickr is focused on photo features, it won’t be hard for them to stay a step ahead of Facebook’s native photo features.

Or if my BookJetty friend started a Facebook app early on (and how I wish that he did), I would have stuck with it. If he were to do it now, I would switch only if it could easily import all my books from the current book app I’m now using, and if my reading friends would switch along with me.

With Facebook’s growing popularity, it won’t be a surprise to anyone when it eventually becomes the top social networking site in the world, making it quite sensible to ride on its extensive reach, as it marches towards world domination.

Except that it world domination is harder than it looks…

Why there won’t be an Super All-Inclusive Social Network

The reality is that we live in a culturally uneven world, and this will likely be the case for a very long time to come, so it will be difficult for Facebook or any other All-Inclusive Social Network to dominate every country in the world.

Which is why All-Inclusive Social Networks like Facebook and MySpace are making little headway into places like China, Japan and South Korea, which already have their own native social networks.

Conclusion

One soon realizes that the business of social networks isn’t an easy one.

If you build it, they may not come.

To create an All-Inclusive Social Network that can outdo Facebook will take a lot of inspiration and genius. And that’s just to get started.

Alternate-Persona Social Networks aren’t easy as well. Besides starting with a compelling idea, it’ll likely require custom technology that probably isn’t easily available (like SecondLife)

Probably the easiest to succeed are the Exclusive Social Networks – just identify the right audience (cannibals?), and have a good strategy to reach that audience. The technology is mostly already there.

Just don’t fall into the trap of doing a Niche Social Network. Or if you read this too late, turn it into a Facebook app first thing tomorrow morning.

* * *

Thanks to Bernard Leong on whom I tested these ideas over coffee one afternoon.

Sisyphus revisited

Posted in all posts, books by coleman yee on December 18, 2008
Sisyphus revisited

Sisyphus revisited

This cartoon by Tom Fishburne will no doubt resonate with anyone who’s done a large project for a large client.

I’m thankful that my company hasn’t experienced anything extreme like in the cartoon, mostly because we defend our work pretty well (at least that’s what I’d like to think), and that mostly because our work is usually based on research and evidence and a lot of thinking.

The cartoon first appeared in Fishburne’s blog post, sisyphus revisited, but I first came across it in his highly-entertaining book, This One Time, at Brand Camp.

Every page has a cartoon, on the dysfunctional side of the marketing/branding industry.

Hilarious stuff, but it would have been funnier if the stuff in there weren’t true. Then again, it’s funny precisely because it’s also true. Sad but true.

Our response to the AIMS report

Posted in all posts, Singapore, web by coleman yee on December 2, 2008

Update – press coverage:

Tap civil servants’ views on policy: Panel (Straits Times, 3rd Dec 2008) – Lee Siew Hua mentions us and quotes me in her report.

* * *

The Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) has released the AIMS report earlier today. They didn’t announce this over the AIMS blog so I didn’t know about it until someone from the media called to ask for my comments.

I was asked for comments because a few of us sent in some feedback to the AIMS committee some time ago.

Since then, some of us have been flooded with calls and requests for comments. Since many of us are not available to be interviewed, I’m putting a response on behalf of the group, in a Q&A format.

What group is this?

In the report, we’re referred to as a “group of academics and government employees”. We normally call ourselves the “media socialists”. See our previous FAQ for a further explanation (no we’re not political).

What are your comments on the AIMS report?

We appreciate that AIMS has taken our feedback and added it to their recommendations. Our feedback is available here: Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS.

How far do you think the government will go in implementing the recommendations of the report?

We prefer not to speculate.

Any other comments?

Not really. Most of what we have to say is already in our feedback itself (Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS) and in the FAQ (Social media “activists” response to AIMS – frequently asked questions).