In 2010, while living in Washington D.C., I had the chance to partake in the inaugural edition of DC Week. Sandwiched in between this week long technology and social media festival, was an event called The ProBono Lounge.
As you can imagine, the metro D.C. area contains an active plethora of young tech savvy talent and a massive amount of struggling local, national and international Non-Profits (or NGOs or whatever you want to call them). The ProBono Lounge was designed to do dedicate one half day in the middle of the festival to pair up struggling local non-profits and organizations with web designers, web developers and social media experts for a little bit of a free workshop. The idea being that Non-profits and organizations would come into the lounge with their technical problems (usual web site and social media issues) and would then spend some time with a designer, developer or social media expert that would give them some advice with their issues. Sometimes they’d actually work on the issue that afternoon or work on something after meeting during The ProBono Lounge. Of course this was all a free service designed to give the tech community an opportunity to give back to the NPO/NGO community in the city.
Now the first rendition of the ProBono lounge was a bit all over the place, but I did manage to spend some hours in the lounge volunteering with a couple local DC NPOs that had signed-up. Out of that afternoon session, I ended up working with a small program called DC Food For All, which eventually turned into a three year working relationship with Bread For The City. As someone new to the city and looking for new projects, The DC ProBono Lounge was an amazing experience.
That experience has stuck in my brain for a long time. One of the things I promised myself was that If I was ever back in Calgary for a more formal time I’d try and set-up a similar thing here. Not only does Calgary have an equally talent pool of designers, developers and consultants, but it also has an amazing culture of volunteerism within the city itself. So this is really the perfect sort of thing for city.
Well, now I’m back and it’s time to get to work.
So over the next few weeks I’m going to putting together some information about the Calgary ProBono Lounge. But I wanted to write a quick blog post to plant the seed for the project.
If you’re interested in helping me get this idea off the ground, I’m going to be looking for the following:
I’m still tossing around the idea, but if you’re interested in helping me out with my little project or even participating, send me an email at email@example.com.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to return to my beloved home town of Calgary. And like every trip home it was a ridiculous trip back, with not enough hours in the day to achieve everything I wanted. But with the recent Floodageddon in Southern Alberta, this trip home was extra special and emotional. And as I tend to do, I really want to write an epic opus about the trip and how proud I am to be from that grey concrete slab in the middle of the prairies, but as always I haven’t had the time to put my thoughts into pixels.
But what I did stumble upon after returning was this brilliant homage to the determination of Southern Albertans from everyone’s favourite ex-prairie punk, turned Grande old-Opry country superstar Corb Lund.
It really doesn’t need much explanation on why it’s such an epic and timely track, but needless to say upon my return to the east, I had it on repeat for a good three to four hours.
Well done Calgary, well done.
With a slate of municipal elections scheduled for late October, upstart candidates and sitting council members across Alberta are gearing up for an intense fall campaign season. With that comes the task of putting together a campaign team, beginning the process of raising funds and also crafting a campaign brand and marketing material. But one of the most critical elements of a strong campaign is establishing an online presence with a fully functional web site.
If you’re an active voter like I am, you’ve probably come across a spectrum of political campaign web sites over the past four years. You have also probably noticed that only about a handful of these site are clearly well done – majority are just absolute disasters doing more harm than good. In a previous blog post, I outlined my opinions on the state of political web design in Canada. But now with an election six months away, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is by detailing a handful of key elements for building a great campaign web site.
Before we get into the meat of these elements, it’s important to understand the role of the candidate’s web site in the modern campaign era. Unless you understand how the typical voter will interact with your site, it’ll be impossible to grasp what characteristics are key in the process.
Before 2010, a candidate’s web site typically acted as the single online activity hub of a campaign. Since then we’ve obviously seen a shift in user interaction patterns, where there is now an even balance between social media activity and the campaign web site. A candidate’s web site is no longer the only element online, it’s now a key cog in three or four active and moving pieces.
Think of it this way, a candidates social media activity and print material acts as a first introduction to the average voter. The entire goal should be to get the candidate’s name in the mind’s of the voter. If a voter’s attention is caught by a tweet about a candidate, notices a friends shared Facebook post, stumbles across a Pinterest photo or drives past a yard sign, that will be their first introduction to the candidate. At which point, if the first introduction is a successful one, the voter will most likely go to the candidate’s official web site to learn more. At which point the candidate will be making their first and most lasting impression on a potential voter and you better hope that their web site hits all the right spots.
Now here is the most important change in the average user activity cycle with a campaign web site. In years past, the average user if impressed by the candidate would probably sign-up for an RSS feed, or bookmark the web site to revisit in a week or a couple weeks. But with the rise of social media, smart phones and our collective diminishing attention spans for visiting web sites on a regular basis, the average voter is going to look over the candidates site once, get the information they need and make a decision to either commit to subscribing to the candidate’s social media activities or to disregard the candidate. From there the social media elements of the campaign will take over and either continue to impress the average voter — potentially bringing them back to the web site for more information as the campaign rolls on or it’ll start to turn the voter away.
In this aspect a candidate’s web site may have lost a bit of its long term importance, but has also increased its value as the biggest element in making a lasting impression on the average voter.
So how does one create a great first impression with a strong campaign web site? Here are some key points.
First and foremost, a campaign has to use the right tools to create an impressionable web site. From my experience building a candidate web site with Drupal or Joomla is overall kill. While very functional tools for larger sites, a Drupal and Joomla site is going to be far too complex for the average campaign team to maintain and it’s going to show in the design aesthetic or with stale content. So while this isn’t real news to anyone, my advice is to go with WordPress or Nationbuilder. Most designers and developers won’t be familiar with Nationbuilder (as a caveat I have been working to become a Nationbuilder architect and it is a great up and coming tool) so WordPress will probably be the default tool for most this cycle.
Now just because you have a WordPress web site it doesn’t mean you’ve completed your work. The biggest benefit of WordPress from a campaign perspective is it’s a very easy to use and universal tool with so many great plug-ins. WordPress is a tool that everyone and their dog can claim to build a Wordpress site, but a badly crafted WordPress theme will stick out like a sore thumb. Any site that is a ‘hack’ of an already popular theme will show fairly quickly. It’ll look cheap and inexpensive and that will reflect poorly on the candidate. In my experience, this is probably the most common mistake that a campaign team will make concerning their web site.
So use WordPress, but invest in a proper design. Create something that’s clean, intuitive, unique and memorable.
This is going to sound incredibly obvious, but a candidate’s face has to be front and centre on their web site.
You’d be shocked at how many campaigns are already committing this sin for the upcoming election. As I mentioned before, a campaign web site acts as the biggest first impression for the average voter, so put your candidate front and centre on the landing page. Make them the focal point of the user’s eye when they arrive.
Now before everyone goes running off to purchase fancy head shots, there is a caveat with this piece of advise — the candidates photo has to be personable.
Don’t photoshop their face and super impose it on a stock image of a robotic skyline. That is so 2009 that it hurts. Do something unique with your candidate. Be creative. Show the personality and charm of your candidate. It could be as simple as showcasing them in the area, ward they represent or in front of a well known landmark of the district they are running in. But overall the images of the candidate have to be personable to people.
Look at it this way, who would you rather vote for? A candidate in a buttoned up shirt and tie sprawled across the perfect backdrop or the candidate that looks like you could run into them on your way to the grocery store or coffee shop of your local neighbourhood?
Nine times out of ten, the average voter is going to take the candidate that looks like they could have a coffee with.
As mentioned in this post, the role of the campaign web site has evolved. While it is still the most critical element for a first impression, it’s also not necessarily where all the online interaction of your candidate with citizens will occur — that area is regulated to the battle fields of Twitter and the timelines of Facebook.
So with that in mind, it is wise to make your candidate’s social media accounts easy to find. Make them stand out on the site. Make them super easy for voters to follow or like. Now like my previous tips of advice there is a caveat to this, don’t just go plug-in crazy with the social media accounts. They have to be easy to find, but it also doesn’t have to look as though the candidate’s web site is a dogs breakfast of the latest tools. Like everything in a campaign it has to be well thought out and intuitive, so invest in good design and simple aesthetic for the web site. Incorporate the various social media tools, but do it in a manner that isn’t an eye sore.
The points I’ve outlined above are fairly straight forward and are based on common sense. Before embarking on a campaign, make sure you understand the role of your web site in the campaign, understand the proper tools for your web site, create a relatable design and aesthetic that represents your candidate and create an online presence that is easy for the average voter to connect with. But what all these points boil down to is ensuring that there is proper investment in a campaign web site.
From my experience, the biggest mistake a candidate can make is to not to properly invest in all elements of their campaign. I have been lucky to work on a handful of great campaigns, with teams that have understood the importance of this concept, but in my research and general observations, many campaign teams in Alberta are already forgetting this simple concept. It’s almost humorous as to how many campaigns will invest large portions of their budget in printed material and online advertising to redirect potential voters to a sub-par web site for more information. With the advent of open source technology and the growing industry of web design, in my opinion there really is no excuse for candidates to have a poorly designed web site in this day and age.
For whatever reason this will be my first ever post on the Open Data movement on the old c.t.overdrive. To be honest I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to jot down some ideas on this topic, as it has been something that I’ve been actively interested in and championing for a couple of years. But with International Open Data Day in the books and my new(ish) hometown launching an Open Data App contest, I figured it was time to jot down some thoughts.
Alright, so for those of you not familiar with the concept, Open Data is a pretty simple idea:
Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. (via. Wikipedia)
Essentially, what Open Data boils down to is that every level of government (Federal, Provincial, and Municipal) collects vast amounts of data on a yearly basis. This data, while useful to different elements of government for various strategic reasons, for the most part has been kept away from citizens. But in recent years, as society have started to shift towards the new paradigm of open technology and open source collaboration there has been a massive push from citizens to have governments release this data to the general public.
The goal of the Open Data movement is to work with and push governments at all levels to make this immense amount of information available to the public in various data sets. The idea being that with this data available to the public it can be leveraged by hobbyists, entrepreneurs or tech innovators to create unique tools or solution to help better the lives of everyday citizens – something that most governments don’t have the resources to do. If you want one to picture it in simpler terms, it’s sort of a data nerd’s Field of Dreams philosophy – a mantra of if you release it, they will come concept.
Now The Open Data movement really gained attention in early 2010s, but it first came to my attention from the writings and conversations I had with local Calgary blogger DJ Kelly. In 2009 and 2010, Kelly was one of the first people in Calgary to push for Open Data to be embraced by city council. At the time Open Data experiments in Washington D.C., Vancouver and New York were just breaking ground and starting to open up the world to the possibilities.
Since learning about the concept of Open Data, I’ve had the opportunity to see the diverse levels of acceptance in two Canadian cities, one American city and to also witness the growth of the concept from the periphery. It’s something I’ve been increasingly more interested in different elements of concept start to mature.
From what I can see the Open Data movement in my old hometown has slowly begun to pick-up steam over the past few months. There is a strong and vibrant push from city hall to get a better understanding of the demands of the public for these data sets. And while it doesn’t have as much of a history in Calgary, it does appear to be worming it’s way into the underbelly of the start-up development community. In recent months (and years), start-ups like Fastcab, iHunter App, MediumRare (+!5 mapping Data) and RandomType (Parking Data) leverage a variety of different publicly available data sets to help create unique tools for citizens, but also improve their every day lives. And with the city putting more resources into the concept, I’m pretty confident that community will continue to grow.
My new home of Ottawa actually has a pretty diverse, impressive and thriving open data community. Upon arriving in the city this past fall I came across the uber active Open Data Ottawa collective – a fantastic group of passionate developers working with the city of Ottawa to encourage open data in the city and region. But the beauty of the community is that it has a strong buy-in from the local municipal government. The City of Ottawa itself is openly active in the community, which just launched it’s second annual Apps4Ottawa contest and has actively supported Open Data Ottawa with their annual Open data hackathon this past December. I don’t want to get into comparisons, but it’s fascinating to see the level of commitment and passion from the city (and citizens). It’s an exciting community and I’m looking forward to lending a hand in the future.
So I know I’m sort of rambling, but the open data movement is slowly growing in Canada. It seams as though each region of the country is in different stages of infancy and because of which some strong communities are popping up. Some regions are clearly ahead of others (such as Ottawa and Vancouver), while some are slowly catching up (Calgary and Saskatoon as examples). But in most of the cases, the Open Data movement is slowly growing. In my opinion, the more that governments start to work with citizens and communities, the more likely we’re all going to start reaping the rewards of the Open Data movement.
And if you’re curious as to why I’m interest in this community. It’s actually pretty simple. For me, my interest in the Open Data movement is less about development of specific citizen tools, but the amazing side effect benefits of this movement. For me Open Data is all about the growth of community driven collaboration and the opportunity it opens up for entrepreneurs and hobbyists – it’s that element that gets me excited about Open Data.
So if you’re curious about the Open Data Movement, feel free to get involved – find your local organization, play around with data sets or help organize a local Open Data group. I’ve include a few informative links below to get you exploring:
A couple of days ago, there was a bit of a Calgary design verbal throw down on the old e-water cooler that is Twitter. After a conversation surrounding the ever popular online portfolio site Dribbble and a lack of motivation to post there, a challenge between local designers Jason Dorn and Cam Hoff was issued to see what local Calgary (and a couple ex-Calgary) designers could build off of a simple design idea.
Out of that conversation the always resourceful Mr. Jason Dorn beautifully handcrafted the site iHeartyyc.com as a catchall to showcase all of the great designs. Since then the little challenge has grown from a handful of designers to a nice cross-section of the design community in Calgary. It’s even garner the attention for other designers in different cities and some local media.
Anyways, I just wanted to write a quick post to give a massive shout out to Jason, Cam, Kevin, Russ and all the other designers who have been taking part and spreading the word. It’s been really interesting to find out about other designers in Calgary and to see the various takes on the concept. If you want to partake, just follow the instructions on iHeartyyc.com
p.s. If I forgot anyone else associated with the project my apologizes.