What to do with all of those RSS feeds? How about a Widget Creation tool?

For any business that has found itself with many RSS feeds from a single site or through many sites and had no way to share these feeds with visitors in a cohesive, useful way, we built the RSS Widget Creation Tool. It originated with a major book publisher that had an incredibly popular blog with many categories of information (each with it’s own RSS feed), and an enormous catalog of titles with new releases being added each day (again with each category having it’s own RSS feed). Bloggers, libraries, and universities wanted a way to easily access this information, and include the relevant content on their own sites. Enter the THICKSOLE RSS Widget Creation Tool. Here’s a quick video tour:

As a custom created web application, we built it to handle multiple levels of categories and topics. It’s also set up to allow the users to pull as much or as little content as they want for their own sites.

With just a few clicks, a user can choose a category, a topic, and lastly the number of items they’d like to appear in their custom feed. Then with a click of a button, a custom widget is created and displayed, and the code is ready to be copied and pasted into any modern website. It’s even ready to pop into a standard WordPress Text Widget with no technical expertise required.

So, if you’re wrangling many feeds from many sources and would like to have a way to not only have them in a single location, but also to make them useful for your users, please check out the THICKSOLE RSS Widget Creation Tool. As simple as the idea is, we haven’t seen anything like it and it’s been a great success. Implementing this into your own organization is something we’d love to help you with, plus since we built it from scratch, we can customize it and add the features you need.

Computer Science Education Week & The Hour of Code

hour_of_code

Today is the kick off of the 2013 http://www.marketingdigitalsas.com/ and this year the big push if behind the “Read Full Report” initiative.  The idea is to get students to go hands on writing some code. As a guy that does this work for a living, I think it’s great to expose kids creating with computers.  It’s funny when I talk with my peers, without fail there’s a story of when they were 10 or 12 years old and got their first computer.  In my case, a TRS80 with a tape drive, black & white TV and, eventually, a tiny plotter printer that printed on what looked like grocery store receipt paper spools.

But, what about all the folks in corporate or home offices that are still in the dark?  Some talk the talk but have no real knowledge.  Some just glaze over and rely on someone else that hopefully delivers.  And for others, it’s a combination.

To have so many ideas and great products, but not the ability to get them online and where your customers live is a tragedy.  Also, to be held back by unresponsive support folks that are supposed to work with you instead of against you is even more sad.  I want to help you.  Giving non-technical professionals the tools and training to get their ideas into the world is what I’ve done since 2000.

I’m not sure how this will shake out yet, but I’m putting together something we can do together every week that will expose you to some kind of tech that will help you out with your career, building an audience, selling units and being more productive, empowered and efficient.   So, if you’re an author, publisher, editor, marketer, or production person (or maybe a little of each), I want to help you take control of these tech stuff so you have the power to do what you do best.  And with these new tools and skills behind you, you’ll do it even better.

android app remote spy cam

After reading Clay Shirky’s post regarding the Healthcare.gov failed rollout, the idea that it was still okay for management not to understand technology kept popping up. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years, so maybe that’s why certain parts were so prominent to me. Lines like:

Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees.

 

Talking to the people who understood the technology became demeaning, something to be avoided. Information was to move from management to workers, not vice-versa (a pattern that later came to other kinds of media businesses as well.) By the time the web came around and understanding the technology mattered again, many media executives hadn’t just lost the habit of talking with their own technically adept employees, they’d actively suppressed it.

 

The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter…

 

With a site this complex, things were never going to work perfectly the first day, whatever management thought they were procuring.

In so many companies, there’s a huge disconnect between the technology (and the people that drive it), and the managers that want to direct where it goes. Getting by with “I’m not a geek,” or “we have great people that take care of that” isn’t good enough. It’s like a CEO not able to understand accounting enough to interpret a balance sheet. Or a marketer requesting an overhead projector because they just never got into PowerPoint (or Keynote).

Technology, particularly web technology, is now in the fabric of so many jobs. Yet, most professional, non-technical managers would be hard pressed to explain how anything regarding how the web really works without just dropping nonsense jargon, and then looking down with a “I have a hard stop at 1 so I have to run.”

We can all do better on this. It will lead to more effective projects and efforts across the organization. It will open you up to things that you never thought of before because you’ll see it from a different angle. You’ll be empowered. You’ll be able to call bullshit on the consultant that has been screwing you over for years. You’ll gain respect from the engineers that have been rolling their eyes after every meeting. You’ll be a better manager, leader, and thinker.

I’d bet Mozart wouldn’t have been a ‘Code – Save – Refresh’ guy

When building a website and especially (for me) while trying to tune in a particular style with CSS, the “command-s” and “command-r” keys, by all rights, should be worn off of my notebook. See, these are the ‘quick keys’ for Save and Refresh. Here’s the drill… Change the style, save it, and refresh the web page to see what it looks like.

I don't need no stinking refresh.
I don’t need no stinking refresh.

Just as Mozart didn’t need an orchestra in front of him to play the parts before writing the arrangements, I’m sure there are plenty of developers that can visualize exactly what they need to see on the page and write out the code to perfection. In fact, I think I work with a few guys like that. But, that’s not me. And, it’s probably not you.

A lot of us got into the technology business through the side door as marketers, publicists, editors, sales people, writers, and creatives. Tools like WordPress and simple, reliable services like ClearDev.net‘s web hosting, make putting together a site, updating it and maintaining it a piece of cake. The technical gets out of the way so you can do the work you were meant to do.

I guess this post is just a reminder to me that this why Thicksole is here: to help non-tech professionals get through the technical things so they can get down to what matters most and ship their art.

Happy 2013!

Painless Facelifts

One of my favorite things about WordPress is the ability to quickly change the look of the site while all of the content just pops into place.  Recently we updated 6 sites for John Wiley & Sons.  They wanted the color scheme changed from green to blue with a new logo added.  A few of the sites had hundreds of articles already produced, so in the old days, this would have been a long process.

But by changing a few things in the WordPress theme CSS, we updated all the sites in no time.  I can imagine the pain this would have generated going through traditional channels, but one of the most beautiful things about WordPress is the way it empowers the end user.  The marketing/editorial crew is often held hostage by layers of bureaucracy and hurdles from the design & tech crew.  With a fundamental understanting of CSS and the WordPress structure, anyone can now make changes to their site.  With websites, sometimes it’s just a splinter in your finger, and everyone is chomping at the bit to turn it into brain surgery.

These sites have been instrumental in differentiating their product from the competition, and it’s great to see them updated each week with fresh content, and there’s still drive to keep the look fresh and clean.

                    

 

CollegeHumor Founder Has Advice

In the latest newsletter from the University of Richmond, they include a quick profile of Josh Abramson, the co-starter of CollegeHumor.com. At the end of the interview he gives some advice to students:

“Students need to learn how to build websites — it’s probably the most coveted skill in New York City right now,” he said. “If you have the business and the technical savvy, you’ll be incredibly well positioned.”

This isn’t great advice for just students, but for anyone in the workplace.  If you can’t understand a conversation at a technical level, your value plummets.  Last year we started a program for non-technical professionals (marketers, editors, writers, etc) to get started with WordPress.  The program starts at the fundamentals from buying a domain and setting up hosting, to installing WordPress, customizing functionality, and even coding fundamentals.  Just having a core understanding of these technical topics increases your value exponentially.

Some benefits of knowing tech fundamentals:

  • Can call BS on an issue when the tech team tries to jargon you to death
  • Independence of being able to start a web project without waiting for layers of bureaucracy
  • Gain respect from the tech team that realizes there’s a person that understands the work they do
  • Represent the tech work appropriately
  • Help the tech team make better decisions and vice versa

It’s a new year.  What’s your plan for upping your tech game?

UPDATE:  Just found this related video:

Become a Publishing Powerhouse

So you’ve had a book idea on your mind for months (maybe years) but never followed through because you couldn’t find an interested publisher (and, well, writing a book is hard work!).  Well, now, with a little elbow grease, you can get distribution to millions of readers, publish on your own terms, and even have complete control of the finished product!  Yesterday, Amazon.com announced their new tool set for building books in their new KF8 (Kindle Format 8 ) standard.  Here’s a clip from the message that landed in my inbox:

We’re pleased to announce that Kindle Publisher Tools with Kindle Format 8 (KF8) support are now available for download. Kindle Format 8 is Amazon’s next generation file format offering a wide range of new features and enhancements – including HTML5 and CSS3 support that publishers can use to create all types of books. KF8 adds over 150 new formatting capabilities, including drop caps, numbered lists, fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars and Scalable Vector Graphics – opening up more opportunities to create Kindle books that readers will love. Kindle Fire is the first Kindle device to support KF8 – in the coming months KF8 will be rolled out to our latest generation Kindle e-ink devices as well as our free Kindle reading apps.

So with a little HTML and some CSS, you can create world class books.  Download the new tools here:

This goes back to my idea that coding fundamentals are a new standard set of office skills just like MS Office basics were mandatory as those Selectrics were carted away in the early 90’s.   You have the tools and now you just have to write that book!

Books in HTML? Yep.

Amazon.com announced their new format for ebooks: Kindle Format 8.  Goodbye to .mobi and .epub?  I think so.  This new format will use the language of the web: HTML 5.  This new version of HTML is delivering fantastic sites with video, animations, wonderful fonts and layouts, and more.  Here’s an example from Apple, and here’s another cool one from Google (just to keep things even).

 So we’re going to see some ebooks that look great, are easier to format for different platforms, and have a whole bunch of new features.  Exciting times!

I think this will also move ebooks to the forefront of the publishing platform rather than as the derivative to the main “hardcover” production.  Readers will be expecting a lot from this platform and there will be rewards for those that deliver the goods.  And those that don’t will get the negative feedback similar to the producers that price ebooks higher than (or the same as) the physical books today.

FileMaker & MySQL are an Awesome Combination

Late last year we went live with a website that was fundamentally a big database that was accessed and maintained through a browser. It was fantastic because it was secure, easy to design around, flexible to port the data to other websites for other purposes, and maybe most importantly – accessible to anyone in the office that had an Internet connection and a web browser. At home, at work, on the beach, where ever – as long as they were connected to the web, they were connected to their live data.

Here's the basic web interface.

Where the app fell short was when it was time to do something like mailing labels, a custom export (first name, last name, email, etc), form letters on letterhead, or even custom searches. This all sounds easy enough. In fact I think I’ve done all this stuff in the mid-90’s with Microsoft Works. But it was a real bitch to do through the browser.

Enter FileMaker. The little database program that I’ve been working with since the mid-90’s is all grown up and does amazing tricks. One of those tricks is to let you connect to an online MySQL database to view and edit live data. Problems solved!

Here's the FileMaker view. Look at all those layouts & reports!

Once I was connected,creating custom layouts and reports was easier than ever. The FileMaker / MySQL combo gave the client the best of both worlds.