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A different PowerPoint format

Posted in all posts, events, powerpoint, presentation, teaching by coleman yee on November 12, 2008

In my last post “Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium” – Podcamp Singapore, I talked about my experience as a speaker at Podcamp Singapore. For a long time, I wanted to try out a different way of using PowerPoint – using both the whiteboard and PowerPoint concurrently without having to move the projection screen up and down – and Podcamp was a great opportunity to do that.

Coleman presenting at Podcamp

Presenting at Podcamp

Notice that I was only using the top third of the screen for the PowerPoint slide. Which meant that I could use both the whiteboard and my PowerPoint slides at the same time.

How I did it

I used a black background on my PowerPoint slide, so that the projection wouldn’t interfere with the whiteboard. The text (in white) occupied only the top quarter of the slide. I could have used a lighter background for the top part of the slide, but black was easiest. My original plan was to pull the projection screen a third down, but the technology was too smart – the screen could only go all the way up (and the projector would turn off automatically), or all the way down. Thankfully I could slide the projection screen behind the whiteboard, resulting in a sloping screen, but it turned out fine. Here’s a shot of another slide.

Presenting at Podcamp - another slide

Presenting at Podcamp - another slide

Thanks to the Podcamp Singapore organisers for these shots.

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“Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium” – Podcamp Singapore

Posted in all posts, events, internet by coleman yee on November 1, 2008

Podcamp Singapore turned out to be quite fun, with some interesting conversations that I hope to blog about soon.

This post is about my thoughts as one of the speakers.

My session

I titled my session “Blogging, Podcasting, or Youtube? Choosing the right medium”.

A more accurate title would have been “Text, audio, or video? Issues to consider in choosing the online medium”, but I would have gotten only half the audience.

I chose this topic because I’ve seen too many people and organizations create a podcast or a video blog without understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.

They may have started a podcast simply because it’s the cool thing to do, not realizing that there are a lot more subtleties involved in creating a good podcast.

It was these subtleties that I wanted to explore during the session.

The format

I was actually a facilitator rather than a speaker. I called the format a “virtual wiki” (a wiki is online, so a virtual wiki is offline) – where the audience gave their input and ideas while I tried to distill their thoughts onto the virtual wiki page (the whiteboard).

The content was audience-constructed, with virtually no contributions from me (although I did lead the discussions in certain directions).

This meant that there were some points that I had in mind that weren’t raised by the audience, but it didn’t matter. What I wanted more was to guide the audience through this thinking process and experience, and I think I was successful in that.

The actual content

Since the actual content wasn’t from me, I don’t have a copy of it. Thankfully some of the audience were busy blogging during the session. Derrick Kwa covered the session live while Claudia covered my session as well as the other sessions live. Unfortunately they didn’t contribute to the discussion because they were too busy blogging about it.

(Update: Shalabh Pandey blogged about the content as well.)

There was also some plurking around in the background by Brian and some others, with one of them wanting to throw cheesecake at me. Thankfully I wrote on the whiteboard before I starting, “NO CAKE-THROWING”.

Feedback

Knowing that people tend to be reluctant about giving negative feedback, I asked a lot of people “what are the 3 things you liked and 3 things you disliked about the session” (later reduced to 2 things because most people had a hard time coming up with 3).

Most enjoyed the discussions. With very smart and knowledgeable individuals in the room, you can never go wrong letting go and giving them the freedom to converse.

However, not everyone was used to the lack of structure. During the discussions, there wasn’t always a clear direction, and the discussions often digressed. It was disorienting for some.

Furthermore, when the session ended, there were more questions than answers. Not everyone liked the lack of closure.

What I would have done differently

First, I would have framed the issue more clearly. I had some assumptions which weren’t shared by everyone, so the scope of the discussion went too broad at some points.

I should have also prepared the audience better for the lack of structure and closure.

Many of us are too used to the comfort of structure and guidance and we want to be given the correct or model answer. While I wanted to raise questions more than to give answers, it would have worked better if the audience was expecting it.

Finally

Despite all the flaws, I’m generally satisfied with how it turned out. I hope others will also be encouraged to try out a similarly participatory or even constructivistic session in the future.

PebbleRoad is hiring

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on October 25, 2008

PebbleRoad (where I work) is hiring. If you want to be my colleague, here’s your chance 🙂

I joined close to 2 years ago, and it’s been an exhilarating experience of learning and creating for me. I’m now doing things I never thought I could do (imagine trying to reorganize a messy website with a few thousand pages into something actually intuitive and easy to use).

Here’s the official announcement – we’re hiring – User Experience Lead

PebbleRoad is actively looking for a User Experience Lead to join the team in Singapore. PebbleRoad is a design firm specializing in design research and strategy. Projects include intranet redesigns, large corporate websites, web applications and e-learning.

The person should be able to:

  • Plan and conduct design research activities
  • Sketch and brainstorm ideas and scenarios
  • Create prototypes and test them out
  • Present design to clients

Experience in information architecture and interaction design is definitely a plus. But what is more important is having a passion for problem solving and learning and taking the responsibility to engage the client and deliver a quality service.

If you are in Singapore or even in the US or Europe and looking for a fast-paced and exciting stint, send a message to maish-at-pebbleroad.com. Here’s more about Singapore.

If you don’t qualify for the above but you have some of those abilities and you’re keen to intern with us, let us know too.

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User Generated Content and misguided strategies

Posted in all posts, events, internet by coleman yee on October 16, 2008

I was at the Singapore Digital Media Festival 2008 pre-event dinner just today, where we had a pretty interesting discussion about user generated content.

I won’t go into all that we discussed, but I’ll highlight some interesting points.

What’s “user generated content”?

They even have an acronym for it – UGC. When we talk about user generated content, we tend to think of content on sites like YouTube. It’s amateurish, it costs little to produce, and it’s produced by some unknown individual (before they get famous).

But what if it’s a professional-quality video on YouTube that costs thousands to produce? And produced by some large corporation? Is it still considered user generated?

Or what if it’s amateurish, costs little to produce, on YouTube, but created or funded by some large company? Is that video considered user generated content?

I’m being a little pedantic about definitions here, but I found that some of the discussion wasn’t too productive because everyone was using the same term but with different definitions in mind.

The inability to properly define user generated content may lead to unprofitable discussions; the inability to understand its appeal leads to unprofitable endeavors – which is far more costly.

The appeal of amateurism?

Ben Koe made the observation during the discussion that user generated content tends to be amateurish, and there is some appeal in that.

But many a large media company has made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that producing something amateur-looking would make it appealing the way a funny home video on YouTube is.

The funny home video on YouTube appeals not because it’s amateurish, but because it’s authentic.

We’re forgiving of the shaky camera handling of the amateur because we know it’s done by someone who can’t do any better. It’s real.

But amateurish-looking videos produced by Big media don’t have the same appeal because we see them as professionals pretending to be amateur (I’m thinking of RazorTV). They aren’t authentic.

Those that still manage to be successful are successful because they have very good content, or they are good enough for the viewer to suspend judgment, despite being inauthentic.

In other words, they still have to be really good.

Thus, Big media should do what they’re good at and have the resources to do – produce top-quality content that is beyond the capabilities of grandma. There are too many grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads and everyone else out there producing content – don’t compete with them. Don’t compete with everyone.

The cheapening of content?

During the discussion, Daniel Goh observed that people are less willing to pay for content, and in many areas, content is expected to be free. I completely agree.

People love music, but kids these days don’t believe in paying for them. The same goes for video content, which is why BitTorrent is using up a significant amount of internet bandwidth – people are using it to music and videos for free.

While people are paying less for content, they will pay for experience.

While kids can download movies over BitTorrent, they still pay to watch the movie in a cinema. Many bands are coming to terms with this trend, realizing that they actually make more money through their concerts and events, and not through CD sales.

Or more recently in Singapore, people were willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money (in my opinion) to watch the Formula 1 race at the track, having to endure crowds and other hassles and getting their eardrums hurt, when they could have watched it live in the comfort of their own homes. Crazier are those who flew over here from Europe or the US just to experience the race.

But the overwhelming reaction from those who were there was that it was worth every cent. Hearing the deafening roar of the race cars blasting away the eardrums was an exhilarating experience, even for those who weren’t F1 fans.

What then?

Companies are missing out on these trends at their own peril.

Many are still clinging on to their content-for-sale model, while others that realize the need for change jump onto the amateurish track instead of the authentic one.

I’m planning to attend the Singapore Digital Media Festival (was invited), and I hope to see some enlightened companies there.

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Napkin from PSFK Conference Asia 2008

Posted in all posts, events by coleman yee on October 10, 2008
Purple psfk napkin on the food table

Purple psfk napkin on the food table

Besides having unique purple napkins during the tea breaks, the PSFK Conference Asia 2008 turned out really great, with many really good speakers – one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

It helped that the 11 sessions were only half an hour each, meaning that those who weren’t so great didn’t get to take up too much time, and those who were really great left you thirsting for more. Yes, the latter is a good thing as well.

There were so many insights and ideas and food for thought but I won’t blog about them now – I still need time to digest so they can help fuel some thoughts and ideas I already have.

For now, here’s a nice quote quoted by one of the speakers:

“I don’t know what the secret of success is, but I know the secret to failure – it’s trying to please everyone” – Bill Crosby

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Function over form?

Posted in all posts, design by coleman yee on October 8, 2008

I was walking on a back lane of Amoy Street when I spotted this shophouse back.

Shophouse dotted with aircon compressors

Shophouse dotted with aircon compressors

I have no idea what’s going on in the building, but they sure require a lot of air-conditioning.

Here’s another view.

Another view of shophouse dotted with aircon compressors

Another view of shophouse dotted with aircon compressors

When a building wall is practically covered with aircon compressors, something is seriously wrong somewhere.

PSFK Conference Asia 2008

Posted in all posts, events by coleman yee on September 29, 2008

PSFK, an international consultancy specializing in trends and innovation, is organising the PSFK Conference Asia 2008 for those in the creative business. The full-day event is happening on 10 October 2008.

The conference covers topics like youth trends, social media, creativity and innovation, collaboration, digital democracy and the impact of change in China, with speakers from companies including MTV, NASA, Panasonic and agencies including Flamingo International, Mindshare, Profero and Wieden + Kennedy.

I did a short interview with PSFK’s CEO Piers Fawkes to find out more about the conference.

Coleman: I understand that PSFK started with you and your friend emailing each other trend and idea news, and eventually posting it on PSFK.com. Now, what’s the story behind the PSFK Conference Series?

Piers: I had been to too many bad conferences. Some had CEOs talking about what it’s like to be a CEO to an audience of non-CEOs, others had doers who weren’t directed enough. I wanted to create an event with quickfire presentations and talks where the audience could use their learnings the next day back at work.

That explains why the PSFK conference can have almost 20 speakers – each one has less than half an hour. Short and sweet.

It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one who’s been to too many bad conferences. And here’s someone who’s actually doing something about it.

Coleman: You’ve had PSFK conferences in London, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Now it’s coming to Asia, with the first one in Singapore. Why Singapore?

Piers: Partly because of the strong heritage Singapore has a heritage as a crossroads of creativity and business; partly because my partner in Asia, Brian Tiong, is there – and partly because we thought it was the perfect place to start our journey into Asia.

The PSFK website is quite a well-known site to get insights on trends. The color scheme is purple. The PSFK logo is purple. They also have the Purple List. I had to ask this last question:

Coleman: What’s with all that purple?

Piers: It’s to do with luxury – or the color of luxury. PSFK in its first iteration as a business was a luxury consultancy. I ran it with Simon King – the SK of PSFK. It wasn’t very successful so I put the company to sleep for a while. When Simon and I started the site, we thought we’d use the URL and the color scheme of the previous company!

An interesting event by an interesting company – I’ll definitely be attending (I was invited for it).

Event link: PSFK Conference Asia 2008

Social media “activists” response to AIMS – frequently asked questions

Posted in all posts, web by coleman yee on September 19, 2008

Update – press coverage:

* * *

I was in the public forum today discussing the “Consultation Paper by the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS)”.

Near the start of the event, the chairman Mr Cheong Yip Seng mentioned that some “social media activists” gave some “thoughtful” and “constructive” feedback 3 days ago to the AIMS committee.

He was referring to the response given by 9 bloggers, including myself.

I won’t go into the forum itself, but when the forum ended, it turned out that the (mainstream) media and other attendees had many questions regarding our response.

Here are some of the frequently asked questions:

Are you the Bloggers 13?

No, we’re another group of bloggers.

Those who contributed to the response include Kevin Lim, Ivan Chew, Lucian Teo, Walter Lim, Kenneth Pinto, Vanessa Tan, Sivasothi N., Jude Yew and myself.

Who are you then? The “social media activists”?

We call ourselves the “media socialists“, but we normally don’t use that name because it gives people the wrong idea – we’re not socialists. We’re a group of academics, civil servants, consultants and designers who are passionate and actively involved in social media, or what many people call “new media”.

This means we’re not quite activists as well. Let us know if you can think of a better name for us.

Why did you send this collective response to AIMS?

Being passionate about social media, we have regular discussions on the subject, so when the AIMS paper came out, we naturally started discussing it. Eventually, one of us had the idea of compiling our responses together and sending it to AIMS, as it was a good opportunity for us to contribute to our society.

Your collective response seems to focus more on e-engagement, as opposed to online political content, protection of minors, and immunity for intermediaries. Why is that?

We see a lot more potential in how the government can engage citizens more deeply through social media, potential that we’re currently not harnessing.

As for the other areas, we support the recommendations on protecting minors and immunity for online intermediaries, and have nothing much to add there. And none of us are political bloggers, so online political content isn’t really our domain.

You had an interesting suggestion to have an online Hong Lim Park.

That was wrongly attributed to us.

Brain Rules

Posted in all posts, books by coleman yee on August 11, 2008

It’s not everyday that I read a book about the brain that is readable, useful, and actually entertaining.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina falls firmly under this category.

It contains 12 “rules” or facts about the brain that scientists are certain about, and how they can be applied in our lives.

The first rule, for instance, is that exercise boosts brain power:

Researchers found a group of couch potatoes, measured their brain power, exercised them for a period of time, and re-examined their brain power. They consistently found that when couch potatoes are enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online. Positive results were observed after as little as four months of activity.

Medina goes on,

It was the same story with school-age children. In one recent study, children jogged for 30 minutes two or three times a week. After 12 weeks, their cognitive performance had improved significantly compared with pre-jogging levels. When the exercise program was withdrawn, the scores plummeted back to their pre-experiment levels.

Now, if this doesn’t convince you to get off your seat, I don’t know what would.

Anyway, here are all the 12 brain rules:

EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
SURVIVAL | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
WIRING | Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
LONG-TERM MEMORY | Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
SLEEP | Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
STRESS | Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
SENSORY INTEGRATION | Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
GENDER | Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
EXPLORATION | Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

The nice thing about Brain Rules is that the book comes with a DVD with entertaining video presentations on each of the 12 rules – an excellent and painless way to make the ideas in the book stick. Do check out the Brain Rules website as well, which has a couple of the videos.

Now, time for me to get some exercise.

iPrepNS website

Posted in design, web by coleman yee on May 29, 2008

A website that I’ve been working on for over half a year has finally been launched.

The website iPrepNS is for guys who are about to enter National Service in Singapore. It aims to prepare them for their 2 years of National Service.

The website covers 3 main phases –

  • pre-enlistment, where there are a whole slew of activities that need to be done even before a boy enters National Service;
  • the enlistment day itself, the big day when the boy enters National Service;
  • and life as a recruit, the first few months in service.

Probably the most attractive part of the site is the pixel art banner, which unveils some of the memorable moments covered by the website.

Like when a recruit gets his crew cut.

There goes my hair!

It adds a touch of humor, which is quite unexpected from an official website by the Singapore’s Ministry of Defence.

Another of my favorites is the interactive on learning the basic foot drill commands.

Besides drawing lots of chuckles from people who’ve tried it, it serves a very real and common need mentioned by recruits we interviewed during our research phase.

Many recruits were unsure of the foot drill commands during their first couple of weeks, which added to their stress caused by all the adjustments they had to make. So this interactive was designed to help them learn the bare basics, without overwhelming them with the more advanced commands.

Similar is the interactive on identifying ranks. We decided on putting only 7 ranks that was most likely to be encountered by a recruit. Anything more would be overwhelming.

What I appreciate most is not the flashy stuff, but the move towards honesty and transparency in the content, especially in the section on recruit training.

Boys who haven’t gone into National Service would have heard stories on training from those who have gone before them. What they have heard may not always be accurate, since human memory is malleable, or simply because the training itself may have changed. It was thus important to include training information that is current and accurate.

We presented the information like how an informed older brother would – informing and advising, being honest about the difficulties to be expected, yet encouraging and being positive about it.

For example, in page on field camp, under “what is it like”:

The 6 days of field camp are tough, but you will definitely remember these days as they are packed with new and interesting experiences.

[…]

Mosquitoes: They’ll always be there, buzzing around when you’re training or trying to sleep, and giving you a bite or two in the process. You’ll be issued with insect repellent, so don’t forget to bring it along.

This honesty about the negative side of training is important for the credibility of the content.

You may have noticed that we even have a section on “safety concerns” on every training page. We found this section important after interviewing parents, especially mothers who were worried about their sons’ safety.

It’s been months of hard work, traveling to different camps and even Pulau Tekong numerous times, doing numerous interviews, taking countless photographs and video footage.

It was thus quite gratifying that the project won the first prize within the Ministry for Defence, and so was launched officially by the Minister of Defence Teo Chee Hean yesterday:

Minister for Defence trying out iPrepNS

Here’s the official news release from the Ministry of Defence.

My colleague Maish also blogged about this project.

Update: The project went on to win the Gold award for the National IQC Convention 2008.