Archive | 2013

The Privacy Issues Don’t Either Have to Get Worked Out

Anytime I see new technology mentioned in the popular press, someone will mention this throwaway line:

Well, that’s great, but of course the privacy issues will have to get worked out.

We say that all the time. Digital cameras. iPhones. Google Glass. Facebook, email hosting. Wearable technology. Massive data sharing. Every tech innovation in our lives, and some reassuring pundit trots out to say, “All the privacy issues will have to be worked out.”

At my local gym, there are signs in the family changing room that forbid you to use a cell phone in the locker room. In theory, I can get kicked out of the gym for looking at a text or an email in the locker room. That’s ridiculous, but that’s the best solution they’ve got for the problem of pervs taking secret photos of other people in the locker room.

I’ve made a number of comments to friends and on Twitter about how angry I am about the NSA data revelations….and the other revelations related to warrantless wiretapping, and all the way back to the Patriot Act.

Make no mistake: I absolutely think our government ought to be using [and developing] the most sophisticated technology to catch bad guys and keep us safe.

But not if they accidentally vacuum up a bunch of innocent Americans’ emails and phone records to do it.

There’s lengthy evidence pointing out that the government often doesn’t even follow its own oversight protocols, never mind that they’re way too lenient for me in the first place. No, I DON’T trust them with my information, and not because I’ve done anything wrong — I haven’t.

Have you ever tested positive for “residue” in a TSA security line? I have. Earlier this year, when I was flying, my water bottle [empty, thank you] tested positive for a suspicious substance. My hands and water bottle both had to get swiped with the mysterious cloths they use, analyzed in a machine. And then I got waved on through. After reading this horrific account, it seems to me that the biggest point in my favor that day in the spring was that I was a middle-aged white woman dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt.

So no, we don’t have to work the privacy issues out. It certainly seems like we’re not going to bother, in fact. While I am pretty open about lots of my life online, there are entire volumes that aren’t online and won’t ever be. On purpose. Because Western philosophy [used to, anyway] highly regards the individual and his or her rights as an independent being. I have the right not to have the government, or a major corporation, divining and acting on those private items without my permission.

But I also don’t harbor any illusions about the reality of that. So yes, I think Edward Snowden is a hero, and I also think the NSA ought to be able to use the kind of technology he exposed — but ONLY when they can show cause to a judge who has the power to curtail abuse of power. We don’t live in that world today, and at the moment, it doesn’t look like we will anytime soon.

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Scheduling New Ideas Mid-Post

Here’s a simple little blogging trick that I’ve just recently started doing by accident, but it may help you, too.

First, if you’re using WordPress but don’t have the Editorial Calendar plugin, go get it right now. It really helps organize your future posts on a blog, see what topics you’ve covered recently, and keeps you accountable about posting regularly.

Now, I’ve begun to focus more [especially over at the Creek Content website] on putting one solid idea into each post. Sometimes that means I end up with 2-3 posts where I might have had one in the past. But it also means I’ve started to be a more critical editor of my own work. I am evaluating the ideas I put together to ensure they really need to go together. And often I find that I end up with extraneous ideas in a post. They’re not bad ideas, mind you — just not necessary to make the point of that particular post.

Instead of just deleting them, I cut them out of the current post and just create a draft with the germ of the new idea, and I go ahead and schedule it on the Editorial Calendar for my site. Depending on what the idea is, I give myself more or less time to get it done, or I figure out where it fits in conjunction with other ideas I’m planning to discuss soon.

Way simple? Yes. Keeps me from accidentally deleting solid ideas that need a good home? Most definitely.

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Identifying Legitimate Voices

We get into interesting discussions in my disciplines. I feel like a native in both content strategy and information architecture, yet the two very interrelated disciplines are quite different in some ways.

Content strategy is born from two directions:
* Web content creation, editing and management
* Technical communication, which is even older, but now has a significant web presence

Information architecture has roots in library science, but also very clearly in actual architecture, like buildings. Both of these roots make IA the more academically tied of my disciplines.

My journey began in 1995, when I was lucky enough to work for someone who found this whole internet thing interesting, and who was sure there were going to be good ways for organizations to communicate with their customers/members/patients online. We were building client websites by early 1996, and we ran smack into all the issues that pushed the development of these two disciplines.

So my original calling was as a practitioner of these disciplines. And as an early-years practitioner, it was clear that there were no experts. In fact, working for a small, custom publishing firm in Nashville, as soon as I started going to web conferences and talking to other professionals, I quickly realized that I knew just as much as anyone working for a big brand or agency — which is to say, not much.

But we all learned, and over the years and lots of mistakes, these two disciplines emerged. And I grew to be an expert on a number of things related to my work. Hard-earned, sweat-blood-and-tears expertise.

We call these fields “disciplines,” which is interesting in itself, to me. I wouldn’t say that they are “professions,” which to me implies that you get a degree [MD, JD, RN, etc.] or a certification by some authorizing body [CPA, law license, medical license, etc.], or both. While lots of trade associations like to promote certifications, and plenty of perfectly legitimate folks stick letters after their last name, to me, there’s still a big difference between a discipline and a profession.

We also have another interesting distinction, particularly in IA, and that’s between practitioner and academic. I’m in a master’s program in information science at the University of Tennessee [Lord willing I’ll finish in 2014!], and after practicing in my field and related ones for nearly 20 years after my undergraduate degree, I found it very interesting to plunge back into academia.

When you’re a practitioner, you can take any value you like out of academia, and I’d argue the good practitioners do, but you’re most motivated by practical results — thus the title practitioner. Someone who’s practicing. And is practical. [If they aren’t, they won’t be practicing very long.]

When you’re an academic, you don’t have the same pressure to be practical. In fact, you’re judged on an entirely different set of criteria. Did you publish enough this year? In what journals? How many books have you written? What press? Who reviewed your book? What conferences accepted your papers?

I don’t mean to sneeze on these things as a whole — but it’s awfully easy to get entirely divorced from the practical there. So I would also say, the best academics are motivated not just by the surface trappings of their profession, but by the long-term applicability of their work. The best academics stay in close touch with anyone who can use their insights in a practical way, in a symbiotic relationship that grows the discipline as a whole.

Here’s something else that happens when you don’t have a true certification or degree to practice in a field, however: We don’t have any external criteria to identify experts.

And I see a lot of us looking for ways to identify experts….who has standing to speak for us? To us? What is required of someone to stand up and say, “Listen to me!”

I’ve been weighing these things in my mind lately. I’ve done a lot of speaking the last couple of years, and it looks like I’ll do even more in 2013. And since before I started speaking regularly, I thought a lot about whether I was qualified.

My work is very deep in some parts of my disciplines, and barely surface-skimming in others. I have a hybrid of the kind of experience you’d get working at a large agency and what you’d get working for a large corporation, since my entire career has been spent at two small agencies with long-term customers, and one startup. Who’d be interested in what I had to say? Had I worked for enough major brands? Did my work still have value to the larger community? I didn’t have a master’s or doctorate in communication, information sciences, or human-computer interaction.

But I come down on the side that not only does my practical experience have value, so do my ideas that are borne out of that practice. I’ve given different kinds of talks: Some are how-to, some are motivational, some are what-ifs. A couple have been identifying a problem and demanding a solution that I don’t personally have figured out myself.

So in that light, I’m delighted to have helped with a couple of Cranky Talk workshops, the brainchild of Dan Willis and some other experienced speakers. I participated in a Cranky Talk workshop in Chicago in 2011, and “life-changing” would be an understatement. The idea is that new voices matter and have value, and we all ought to be pushing to be our best when we’re sharing ideas.

And then…Boom. There was a little Twitter chat related to this topic between Dan Klyn and Daniel Eizans yesterday, post IA Summit, [two guys I wouldn’t hesitate to call experts], and Dan shared this transcript of Richard Saul Wurman’s keynote at the 2010 IA Summit, which considers the idea of expertise…and stomps it pretty flat. [The transcript is long, but please read it. Really, really valuable.] Wurman says we’re in a world and a discipline that are changing very, very fast, so the idea that we can be “expert” is laughable.

Wow, do I love that.

At the same time, I don’t spit on those who call themselves experts [hey, I’ve done it!], or those of us who look for experts to help guide us. We’re all the blind men feeling the elephant, and it’s going to take all of us to figure it out. Part of the fun is to hear divergent voices and argue the particulars. None of us can own the discipline alone, but we each have important things to offer.

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