Friday, March 30, 2007

Three levels of navigation complete

One week until launch and we have over 400+ pages to convert (create for most) to the new look. Safe to say, the next week will be busy.

In the mean time, I sent a second email to all staff with the following screenshots. My first email contained only the front page a week ago, so it was about time to give everyone a better idea (as I see it develop for myself) of our new look and direction. Since there are many changes, I'm trying to reduce the *surprise* factor as much as possible,

Front page

Channel page

story page

Wiki glossary

Community Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Act for Healthy Rivers nears completion

We're soooo close to wrapping up this site and launching Act for Healthy Rivers, a project that has been in the making since last July. This has not been an easy task - small niche campaigns never are - but overall I think we're in a good place.

Plus, the *slog* will be reinforced/cross-promoted nicely on our national river blog. More to come, but here are a few screenshots.

Front page

Slog (sewage + blog = slog) page

Our coalition page

Our fight page

Friday, March 23, 2007

Blog design complete (with a little tweaking left to do)

Over the last couple of days, I've gone back and forth with our partner on the design of the blog and I'm quite happy with the finished product. Blogs are so easy. In fact, so easy (and fun) that I've been distracted from what I probably should be doing more of...content wrangling.

But fortunately, I am roughly 70% complete with two content sections left to go, *Your Region* and *Community Tools* - so that's good. As I wrap that up in the next few days, I'm also planning on burning each category feed through feedburner to create the look of a personalized RSS feed for our blog as well as the RSS component/page of our national website.

The above changes to the blog are drastically different than the first design draft (also below).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

First blog draft is set free

Well, you get the idea, it's a blog, with blog stuff, that does blog things. But we plan on sprucing it up a wee bit so that it looks a little less of a packaged WordPress theme.

I really like the header, and though I spent too much time searching for photos last night, I think we'll probably use it just the way it is. Searching for photos is such a time suck, but oddly enough, somewhat therapeutic. Though finding one that crops to 800x115 is a bit of a challenge.

There's is quite a few low hanging fruit with this WordPress design, so I imagine things will look quite different with the next go around, but wanted to throw it out there. The blog and Riverpedia are being developed simultaneously.

National site conceived in Convio

Trust me, the sum of the parts will make a whole site, but for now the immediate focus is on the individual components. And we need a lot of them as we build out the various parts in Convio - but that's actually kind of preferred as I'm learning.

The more parts we have, the greater control of the site we'll have down the road. For those who know Convio, we'll have a lot of *reusable* content at our fingertips. This is a good thing as it gives us the ability to make changes on the fly as opposed to relying on others to do it for us. And we do want to walk on our own when this is all said and done.

Anyhow, not a lot to look at compared to previous screenshots, but I'm very excited the parts are finally coming together IN Convio. Though we're still in the first trimester of web development, I'm pretty sure we'll zip through the content (I better not have just jinxed myself) over the next five days or so.

Yes, I'm suddenly feeling optimistic that we'll hit the launch mark on April 6th. And with tomorrow being another day on the production schedule (Act for Healthy Rivers is in full swing too!), I'm going to enjoy it now with a cold river-born brew.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Riverpedia: draft of wiki glossary using mediawiki

I'm pretty psyched about this: our very own RIVERpedia that can complement Wikipedia's existing river entries as well as create new ones. It's kind of lofty, but our goal is to expand the knowledge-base of river terms. I've been talking about wikis quite a bit (internally and externally), so it's good to finally see a public facing wiki.

Though we're using two wikis internally (for more test purposes than anything else), this is our first effort with MediaWiki. Once we created a subdomain, our partner downloaded the software and got us off the ground. Though I was envisioning a wiki embedded in a page that looks like everything else (similar to Mobile Active), it appears the software is still evolving.

From our partner regarding the recent effort to use MediaWiki:

This is the most recent version of MediaWiki (1.9.2) which in turn required the most recent version of serverside PHP5.2. I installed the new PHP last week and ended up bringing down my server for several hours because of a number of existing bugs which often occur in latest versions that haven't yet been well tested. Things are fixed now but that experience coupled with MediaWiki's dense code has left me no fan of this software...
Now I have to go learn everything there is to learn with MediaWiki...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Nat'l home & campaign page up in testing environment

As I'm learning, few things are built inside of Convio. Currently, our team is building a variety of pages that will eventually be broken down into components and migrated to Convio. The sum of the parts: a page wrapper that can be edited by us.

Then when ready, it appears that with our new wrapper and security category, we can easily switch out one page wrapper with the other - content remaining in tact. Cool, but three weeks to go until a much anticipated launch - remember new brand, tag line, and logo - and we haven't completed one page.

Nervous? Absolutely. However, as I've been assured, the building, importing to Convio, and creating page wrappers is the heavy lifting during the process. Once complete, we should be able to crank out the content. Though we have 900+ pages of content, I'm thinking that we should be able to cut it down to half (but definitely no promises) for the launch.

I'm basically gearing myself up for the next few weeks to be very interesting (i.e. much learning), frustrating (compromises to achieve end goal - I can be too ambitious), and extremely exciting. Oh, and busy. My wife is out of the country for the next month for work - coincidence? - and my focus will be on the site redesign.

Homepage draft built in a secure environment for testing purposes.

Campaign page in the testing environment too.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

eNewsletter draft template proposed

We had a quick look at a mock-up of the newsletter last week, but I think it was a little premature as the design concept matched past iterations of our homepage design.

This one is much more along the lines of what our website will look like, minus the logo of course. So, on the right track.

Our edits/thoughts with the design elements were basically -

Header: Seemed like there were two headers on top of one another, which seemed less than ideal use of space for newsletters(?).

Title of eNewsletter: This needs to be spelled out - The Current: A steady stream of river news

Left column: It looks too much like our web navigation and not a table of contents, overview of our subject areas. I think we’d like a greater sense of separation between the profile and feature sections from the rest of the items - possibly a different color too.

Our sections:

Profile: Name of individual
Feature: Title of story
Ripple effect
Notable Folks
Take Action
Our pick
In the news
Blog musings
Donate button (less of section, more of a stand alone)

But all said and done, this is a minor detail to the bigger picture...our national site redesign. In the mean time, I'm still pulling teeth - I mean content from our website...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Subaru car prepped for record river cleanup organizers

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had exceeded last year's number by 50. Well, as of today we've doubled last year's total (300 cleanup organizers!). And it continues to grow, which is very cool.

On top of it, looks like we'll have four 2008 Subarus (possibly before they even hit the showroom floor) to drive around various parts of the country promoting National River Cleanup Week.

What does this have to do with our website? I'm hoping with the four cars we can create live blogging events that includes photos, video, and/or podcasts chronicling the June 2 - 10 cleanup events. I'm thinking lots of video, possibly even daily video logs from out in the field, but we need a vlogger. Think Amanda Congdon or ZeFrank is available?

A comic strip call out to our finalized blogging policy

This comic strip is fitting for yesterday's post...

Funny, we finalized our blogging policy Monday morning and that afternoon, a colleague gave me the below Frank and Ernest comic strip. This makes at least three web-related strips that have been left on my desk, and yes, sometimes even mysteriously.

But kind of cool, like the 5th grade anonymous valentine card (that is until you discover it was your mother). Given how forward I've been internally about web 2.0, social networks, blogs, wikis, you name it - I'm glad folks are finding this stuff amusing enough to share with me.

And more importantly, relevant to our online direction.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thanks IBM & Yahoo! for our blogging policy

For the last few weeks, our controlled group of 10 bloggers have been meeting and discussing what it means to blog. Yes, as I've been musing all along, we're attempting to define it for us.

These meetings have been a lot of fun, and productive, which is cooler. We've taken a look at who's blogging, how they're talking online, and what value we can add to the river conversation (we know it's already happening).

However, one of the issues that has surfaced is how will we protect ourselves from saying, not so kind, or respectful, or productive, or (you fill in the word). Nothing new, but a very legitimate concern - presidential candidate John Edwards showed us that. Our discussion revealed that we needed to create guidelines for all *bloggers* to review prior to posting.

After a Google search, I found IBM and Yahoo!'s blogging policy/guidelines. This, combined with an internal email from our general counsel outlining immediate concerns and providing a few suggestions, I assembled our top 10 blogging do's and don'ts.

Here I go, our guide to successful blogging (what am I missing?) -

1. No Ad hominem attacks.
a. Not only does this reduce the chance of libel liability, but it avoids offending people you might want to work with in the future and it also keeps you from seeming wild-eyed and lacking in substance for your arguments.

This does not mean you can't attack actions by the administration or Congress—it's just the difference between saying "this week the Bush administration adopted a nasty proposal to do X" vs. "this week the nasty Bush administration adopted a proposal to do X".

2. Avoid imputing motives to other people.
a. Though supporters want to understand what is going on and why someone would add more sewage to water, we don't know what is in someone else's head—and it's best to avoid claiming we do.

But you can get these messages across by stating facts rather than imputing motives. Rather than saying "the Administrator Johnson wants to make it easier for big Republican donors to rip up wetlands," let's just say "big developers have been lobbying for more ability to rip up wetlands," which allows the reader to make the connections.

3. Write for everyone.
a. A blog is in many ways even more public than the front page of the Washington Post, so people should not assume the readership is anything more narrow than "everyone with a computer.” In fact, all words represent the organization and can be quoted by members of the media.

4. Be Respectful of Your Colleagues.
a. Be thoughtful and accurate in your posts, and be respectful of how other staff members, STAC, and supporters may be affected. All American Rivers employees can be viewed (correctly or incorrectly) as representative of the organization, which can add significance to your public reflections on the organization (whether you intend to or not).

5. Get Your Facts Straight.
a. To ensure you are not misrepresenting your fellow employees or their work, consider reaching out to a member of the relevant team before posting. This courtesy will help you provide your readers with accurate insights, if you’re blogging outside your area of expertise. If there is someone at American Rivers who knows more about the topic than you, check with them to make sure you have your facts straight.

6. Provide Context to Your Argument.
a. Provide enough support in your posting to help readers understand your reasoning, be it positive or negative. Help readers understand your perspectives by providing context to your opinion. Develop a thoughtful argument that extends well beyond “(insert) is cool” or “(insert) sucks”.

7. Engage in Private Feedback.
a. In order to maintain an open dialogue that everyone can comfortably engage in, welcome “off-blog” feedback from their colleagues who would like to privately respond, make suggestions, or report errors without having their comments appear on the blog. If you have an opinion, correction or criticism regarding a posting, reach out to the blogger directly.

8. No nondescript Posting Titles.
a. Users must be able to grasp the gist of an article by reading its headline. Avoid cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context. Descriptive headlines are especially important for representing our blog in search engines, newsfeeds (RSS), and other external environments.

Sample bad headlines:
* What Is It That You Want?
* Hey, kids! Comics!
* Victims Abandoned

Sample good headlines:
* Pictures from Die Hunns and Black Halos show
* Office Depot Pays United States $4.75 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations (too long, but even if you only read the first few words, you have an idea of what it's about)
* Ice cream trucks as church marketing

9. Links Don't Say Where They Go (no acronyms).
a. One of the basics of the Web: Life is too short to click on an unknown. Tell people where they're going and what they'll find at the other end of the link.

Generally, you should provide predictive information in either the anchor text itself or the immediately surrounding words. You can also use link titles for supplementary information that doesn't fit with your content.

A related mistake in this category is to use insider shorthand, such as using first names or acronyms when you reference other writers, weblogs, organizations, or government agencies.

10. Read, write, and credit other bodies of work online.
a. One of the best ways to create readership is to cite other blog posts. Remember, this is an online conversation that requires active participation as a writer and reader. It is best to learn who is writing on your subject, what they’re saying, and how you can add value to the conversation.

As a general rule of thumb, if you write for an hour you should read and comment on other blogs for an hour. To learn who’s already talking about your subject area, visit and

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Content overload, few posts this week...and next

For the last five months I've been able to squeeze in (okay, on average that is) at least one post a day to follow our three website redesign web developments, but this week I've completely fallen of course. And it's not slowing down.

As we enter the production phase, the content needs have finally taken its toll on me. I can finally say - with great confidence - that we're no longer redesigning a site, but creating a new site - it feels good to say that out loud. Almost a new organization with all of our branding work too. Exciting, but a little daunting as the rubber has finally hit the road with the design build out. The April 6th deadline looms...

So, this week is a wash, and I'll be out of the office next week snowboarding (can't really complain there), pulling content from our 1100+ pages, and learning how to edit video using iMovie. I'm actually pretty psyched about that, but I wouldn't want to say that too loud.