Thursday, December 21, 2006

Taking a break for the holidays

I'm in Atlanta until the middle of next week and will return with a post on January 2, 2007.

Happy holidays and all the best for the New Year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Activist survey results have been compiled

Roughly a month ago, we sent a survey to our die-hard activists (segmented list) to learn a little bit more about who they are, what they want, and how we can improve our communication with them.

Surprisingly, they said they wanted more actions. Go figure. However, on top of that, we did learn a few additional things about our activists from this survey and hope to do the same with our current online web traffic survey.

The perception and use of the site by our core activists include:

  • Loyal supporters: 42% visit AR online more often than rival sites like NRDC, Nature Conservancy and Sierra Club
  • Clear threats: activists ranked pollution, overdevelopment and farm/industrial water run-off as three top threats facing rivers today
  • Inspiring issues: nearly 50% of all respondents cited Clean Water and America’s Most Endangered Rivers as two issues that moved them most
  • Taking action: 62% of respondents used the website most often to take action
  • Infrequent visits: 75% visit AR’s site once a month or less
  • More of this: activists want to see more chances to take action; attention to local issues; and public policy updates
  • Not very diverse: 91% are white, half are 50+ years, most are highly educated with high median incomes
All of this is pretty telling as we move forward with our information architecture. The knowledge gathered here, along with our 'web traffic' survey and (working on it now) 'community leader' survey, will greatly aid our efforts as we decide what information should float to the top.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

News to use: quantifying the online chatter

Last night I attended a Drupal meetup at the Science Club where Development Seed (the firm at the Act for Healthy Rivers helm) unveiled a team aggregator approach to quantifying the online chatter.

Following on The Cluetrain Manifesto’s market of conversations theme, Development Seed announced that they’ve finished the beta work on "Managing News"—a new tool that allows organizations to track, manage, analyze, and act on news.

Don’t understand? It took me a few rounds to follow the thought process, but think of it as a clipping service on steroids. Though conversations are already happening online about our work, it’s our choice whether or not we choose to have a seat at the table. The team aggregator approach allows an entire team to monitor news together.

Sponsored by the World Bank and World Resources Institute, “Managing News” appears to not only allow team members to capture the conversation as it’s happening, but process the information as it comes in and act on it appropriately. So, it's a communication as well as an outreach tool.

Though there seems to be greater significance for politics and international companies/large NGOs, there’s importance for even us as a relatively small, niche environmental non-profit.

Currently, I believe our press secretary searches Google, Yahoo! News, and Lexis Nexis for the latest organization news, but not the online chatter (hope to work on that in the near future). If Time’s person of the year is in fact you, shouldn’t we be listening to the “yous” out there?

For our work, I think it would behoove us to know bloggers as well as folks making videos, recording podcasts, and taking photos on or about rivers. If Time magazine is on the mark, quantifying as well as acting on the online chatter will inevitably allow us to strengthen our message: healthy rivers, healthy communities.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Greater public participation in redesign

I've been blogging about our website(s) redesign for the last couple of months and have shared it with several folks internally as well as friends in the community, but it will soon be linked from our homepage with a few additional engagement tools.

On Monday, we are planning on posting a link that invites our ‘traffic’ to be involved in the redesign process. By doing so, I hope we can:

  1. Create a little excitement with the changes ahead;
  2. Build on the great feedback that has been shared already; and
  3. Learn from our supporters, activists, and members about how we can improve our communication with them.
On the menu for greater public participation: an online survey, an audio recorded (over the phone) feedback, and this blog. I’m curious how a user generated podcast will work out (btw, I’ve recently learned about audio discussion boards and have become quite intrigued).

This is our first public step announcing the website redesign as well as me blogging—only a handful of folks are aware of this effort...but that will change shortly. All of it should be interesting and hopefully a value-rich exercise that we’ll be able to learn more about our audience as well as better identify our niche in the marketplace.

Blogging omen

Ever since I read Robert Scoble's post on attending a funeral, I was hooked.

I mean really, a Microsoft tech guy blogging about life and death? What gives, but it was one of the more authentic pieces of work, reflections I can remember. Anyhow, I read Scobleizer pretty regularly now and I have to come clean; I've committed Scoble's #9 sin: blog about blogging (there's also been a lot of consumer research too, but another time).

However, I'm afraid it's probably not the last bless me, Scoble, for I have sinned - in fact, I reckon as we move forward with a couple of projects I will be chatting the action up a little more than I initially expected. No question is stupid, right?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blogging for meaningful discourse

I love blogs and the whole concept of them, but like environmentalism in the 21st century, the word itself seems to have exploded to represent something much larger than what was originally set out to accomplish.

And for this reason blogs seem to have become a loaded term that conjures, denotes, and/or implies a million different things to a million different people. We view words in the context of our own experiences, but it would appear that our own experiences are increasingly being shaped by our perception of what we hear, read, or watch on television.

Basically, the power of the word blog has taken a life of its own. For better and worse.

When I mention the word blog in casual conversation, I get the sense—by the use of the word itself—that I enlist fear, excitement, confusion, frustration, and a host of other alpha related emotions. And these are my friends. Similarly, I would never consider myself an environmentalist since it means too many things to too many people—why limit a personal exchange by a preconceived idea of who I might be?

For me, this blog is my unfolding understanding (and sometimes lack there of) of blogs. It’s real to me, not a preconceived notion of what it should be, but something that has meaning to my work. And that's important, but that's not the only way to achieve meaning.

I’ve just recently been turned on to JP Rangaswami’s blog, Confused of Calcutta, and enjoyed his recent posting, Musings on Learning and Blogging—specifically, his explanation of a blog:

They [blogs] demolish the barriers to entry that are often present in society, barriers that affect curious people. Barriers that are primarily social in nature. Barriers like “I don’t want to appear stupid, but….”.

You see, people like Feynman and Einstein had the single-minded focus and energy to get over the social barriers and keep asking the stupid question. But most of us aren’t Feynmans or Einsteins. With social software and particularly with blogs and wikis, we can all ask stupid questions without feeling stupid about doing the asking. Many times, when I check something out via Google or via Wikipedia, I’m asking a stupid question. I couldn’t do that very easily at school. Actually that’s not quite true, but that’s a different matter.
So true. I like this passage and can relate immediately; for me, this definition has meaning and practicality for an enhanced understanding. I ask 'the Google' many, many stupid things.

I'd like for us to explore our connection to blogs (meaning that we begin talking by even asking stupid things), and whole heartily believe that my non-profit would greatly benefit from the experience. It may also be important for us as an organization to first develop as well as define our desired experience and outcomes before we enter the blogosphere. And once we do, we'll hopefully begin shaping the conversation online.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Go, go widget power...for fundraising

In partnership with Yahoo!, Network for Good recently launched their charity badge to leverage greater personal fundraising power - check out the one I created down and to the right.

Just last month I received an email from a supporter who wished to add an American Rivers widget to his MySpace page, but unfortunately we couldn't respond other than a logo taken from our site and a hyperlink to our donation page. It's kind of lame, but that's all we had at the time being. Fortunately, Convio is working on introducing a similar tool this January.

What's also cool about Network for Good's charity badge is that the user can add a photo of their choice or a link to a YouTube video. The downside (I learned after having created a badge) is that I can't return to edit the content, but I'm sure that won't be for long. I bet there will be some pretty neat improvements as we enter the new year and a viable option for us as we move forward with our redesigned website.

It would've been very cool to have suggested to our supporter that he personalize copy, create a badge, copy a snippet of code, and plug it on his site. Hopefully, in the near future, we can offer this.

There’s also a contest that Yahoo! is running, check it out here. And to learn more about Network for Good's efforts, read Katya's blog post.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Taking a sneak peak is a Snap

Honestly, I've always thought site previews were kind of annoying, but I'm trying to figure out how we can balance the need of external links with the desire of keeping people on our site.

Anyhow, I've been reading Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (found it on my desk the first day and took it as a hint) and though the book was published in 2000, I'm finding it extremely relevant to our work in 2006.

I've basically been working under the assumption that you never want to send people off your sight. And I've been banging that drum internally too since we have LOTS of external links. But I'm coming around to the idea (Nielsen wrote about this in 2000, before there was web 2.0 too) of letting go of controlling the user experience. Though I've never thought of it that way, Nielsen points out that users get more annoyed by the fact your site is potentially holding back on information. And in the end, the trust we work so hard to obtain online is skating on thin ice.

But don't get me wrong, a list of non-relevant external links is indeed annoying, but where do we draw the line with providing useful information while ensuring a long, fruitful trip on our site?

My response as of late has been to link to www???.com if it highlights our work, references our effort, or supports our cause, but definitely no more pages of just outside links (see the recently completed content inventory). Hate to be the link grinch, and I want to play nice, but I'd like to avoid a page's only option is to leave the site.

When we do link externally, I'd like to have a description of why we're linking...meaning, how will the user experience be benefited by visiting this site. Additionally, I'm testing out on this blog how we can also use Snap for a snapshot of where we intend to send the user.

It's 2006 and Nielsen's book was published in 2000, and that's light years ago in web-speak, but are external links a no-no today? Or given the web 2.0 perspective, are we potentially holding back relevant information that in essence attempts to control our users?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wiki-bound for 2007 Most Endangered Rivers

Alright, enough talk, looks like we’re going to give wikis a try and create 10 unique private wikis for our ‘America’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers of 2007.’ I was pretty psyched when I received the email today:

Ok, Chas. Knowing that you’ll be there for support, we’ll take 10 wikis for MER this year… We don’t know which ten rivers it will be yet, but I suppose as soon as we do, we start personalizing/using the wikis.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been pushing pretty hard for greater document control in the workplace when it comes to MER (though never been through a MER before) and we’re going to give wikis a try.

But it’s been less than a day and I’ve already run in to a problem: I was planning on buying 10 private wikis on (one for each river) on Techsoup, but after a little more research I found that the maximum number of discounted wikis I could buy was three. Whoops.

For MER wikis to work, all of the rivers we select for 2007 have to be kept top secret until we release the report, which typically happens in April. This private medium will hopefully allow us to control the flow of information between us and the group who nominated the rivers by creating a central work area for each river as well as encourage our partners to add photos, videos, etc.

The challenge for us is finding a wiki host that will allow us to create 10 unique wikis with 10 separate URLs…and for little or no money. Wikispaces seemed to work, but at $5 per wiki per month, it was a little pricey for an non-budgeted expense . Jot Spot was under construction post Google buy-out, so that isn’t an option. And Socialtext seems to be a little overkill, but cool.

Any additional ideas, wiki or non wiki?

Day 1: five cleanups registered

We've completed day 1 and we have five cleanups that have been registered. We had one hiccup right from the start, but puffinworks was on top of it and so far, it seems pretty straight forward for folks. Haven't heard from anyone, so we'll take the 'no news is good news' approach.

We have though just sent our monthly newsletter out with NRCW as the feature story, so I'd expect a lot of visits today and hopefully more registered cleanups.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 Vizu poll

Quick poll to follow up with the release of

Is the National River Cleanup Week registration process:
Easy to follow and a little different
Excellent, love the 'Google in Reverse' registration process
Okay, I guess, but it was a little time consuming to register for a cleanup
Very confusing and took a great deal of my concentration to register for a cleanup
Make Free Online Polls

National River Cleanup Week is live!

Take a peak, we're up and running with a soft launch...until tomorrow when we send out to our media lists. We'll follow on Thursday with a mention in our email newsletter, The Current. Then the following week, a greater placement on our homepage.

Take a spin and leave a few thoughts, words of wisdom, or ideas for improvement -

Though we're live, this is just the beginning. Hopefully, we've prepared ourselves well enough to weather the fiercest user-confrontation storm, i.e registration process.

I'm anxious to see what experience folks have and fortunately we are tracking the movement with Google Analytics - that will help.

Old web page hosted on America Outdoors website (still there as I'm working on a redirect).

New National River Cleanup Week website with a flash introduction.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Brown bag lunch #2: Creating & Using RSS

I continued my RSS tirade in the office last Friday with our second brown bag lunch (see the first), Creating & Using RSS. My push is probably getting annoying, but again, if we’re planning on offering this service on our website, I’d like for everyone to know how they work.

We hope to do some cool things online and staff involvement will be key. And, it’s not just necessary for program staff; I think it’s equally important for development and finance folks too. Sure, it’s relevant to our outward communications, but I’d also argue for the importance internally.

Streamlining our in house communication is a big issue, like many organizations, companies, associations, etc. How we manage documents, engage one another with our individual work, and collaborate on projects will greatly impact our success conserving rivers (um, so me think).

I guess that’s why this redesign is a big issue as we have the opportunity to expose the entire organization to a few new communication tools. If the redesign is phase 1, then the next step for us will be addressing how we as an organization communicate with one another. I’d love to know what non-profits have begun looking at their inward communications as well as dabbled with the idea of blogging, wikis, feeds, etc.

Anyhow, more on that later, back to the RSS brown bag. Eleven people showed up (one caller) to the brown bag lunch. We explored many aspects of feeds from what they look like to how they can make us more effective communicators—or the thought goes.

The biggest and best ‘ah, ha’ moment was the realization that one can subscribe to Google News tags which translates to no more visits to the site or hourly emails. The message of the day: information control—you get what you want, not what is sent.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of confused looks…hopefully, it was a healthy amount of confusion. But sensing the 11 attendees as our new feed evangelists, I followed up with an email inviting them to a free lunch where I would come to their desk and create an account, identify feeds, and subscribe them to the feed(s) of their choice. I’m not above a food bribe, but beer may work a little be better (note to self).

I don’t have my 40-slide PowerPoint presentation in a web format, so if anyone is game for a read, just let me know and I’ll send it to you separately in an email.

I’m not sure what out next brown bag lunch will be, but thinking about wikis. Any ideas for our January brown bag lunch? Would blogs be a better topic as a follow up to RSS?

National River Cleanup Week launches Wednesday

So we hope.

The plan right now is to make one last round of non-text related edits and then tomorrow (cross your fingers) go through the text. Fortunately, there aren't many words, but we need to go through it pretty thoroughly.

On Wednesday, we’ll turn it loose with a press release before we send it out to with our monthly newsletter audience on Thursday. After that, I’m sure we’ll go through another round of edits from opening it up to a larger audience and then, hopefully, one last nip and tuck and be done with it….until next week.

The registration process is really the heart and sole of the site, so we’ll have to see how users respond to the process with their specific registration. I'm concerned whether or not users will be comfortable with the idea of zooming in on a specific location for their cleanup. Though cool and different, it does require a little work and patience.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Group seeks public input in web redesign

A couple of colleagues forwarded me an email from Defenders of Wildlife who are opening up their website redesign to a select group in Washington, DC—very cool, I love this idea.

Creating a little anticipation to the process is key and asking folks in the neighborhood to participate in the process is great. I like the fact that Defenders, a group I’ve always turned to for guidance when designing donation page(s), creating our newsletter, or communicating with our activists, has extended an invitation to the public to be ‘in a focus group on our new website.’

I think setting the right mood for a redesign is essential for not only getting folks excited about next steps online, but getting them involved with the work. For us, I’m still toying with this idea and have been talking to folks internally about how we can best do this, but I certainly hope we can follow Defenders lead by opening our doors for community input on our national website redesign.

To get started, we’re launching next week our web redesign ‘cat out of the bag’ survey to capture input from our day-to-day website traffic. It may also be cool for folks to call in and leave their verbal suggestions. Anyhow, stay tuned, next week our photo contest goes back up on our homepage and we tackle the next phase of our redesign process: public exposure.