Is Your Company’s Content Cursed?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 12:33 PM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 2 comments

Hank Stroll, one of my first clients and a dear friend, would occasionally reply to my email with a chuckle telling me I’m doing what his wife does. He explained that his wife and I sometimes had a tendency to talk about something and he’d have no clue what we’re talking about. Like he entered the middle of a conversation.

“Talk to me like I don’t know anything,” he’d write.

I fell victim to the curse of knowledge. And it’s everywhere. Maybe even in your company’s content. It could be the website or content marketing stuff.

It’s more common than you think. An email newsletter columnist submitted an article about companies that made the “best of” list. Each contained a short overview of the company’s business.

Whew, boy. They all spoke the same language: marketing-speak.

I visited the companies’ websites for more information to help me rewrite them to stick with just the facts. It wasn’t surprising to see the overviews came from the website — mostly the Home or About pages. (Good thing making this “best of” list didn’t require effective content, eh?) It also didn’t surprise me that most of the content didn’t clearly communicate what they do for clients.

They all suffer from the same disease I did.

The curse of knowledge.

I believe the phrase first appeared in the October 1989 issue of The Journal of Political Economy. Here’s how authors Colin Camerer, George Lowenstein and Martin Weber of “The curse of knowledge in economic settings: An experimental analysis.” described it.

The curse of knowledge makes personal expertise seem more widely shared than it is, making it difficult for people to convey their expertise to others and reducing the apparent need (from the perspective of the better-informed individual) for such a transfer of knowledge.

They studied the impact of the curse of knowledge from an economic point of view. Chip Heath and Dan Health explained it from a business point of view in “Made to Stick.” I bet you’ve seen it or lived it.

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language. “Achieving customer delight!” “Becoming the most efficient manufacturer!” “Unlocking shareholder value!” One explanation for executives’ love affair with vague strategy statements relates to a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.

In other words, the people who wrote the content for these companies were stuck in their heads. It makes it harder to separate their knowledge from the knowledge — or lack thereof — of the people visiting their website. They knew what their company did. They forgot to consider what their target audience knows or didn’t know.

This wasn’t a simple problem of using jargon and abbreviations. It was a problem of explaining what they do to someone who had never heard of the company. All of these were business-to-business professional services companies. (Noticed I skipped using B2B or BtoB?)

Although I work with B2B clients, not everyone reading this knows what it means. Yes, it’s common to me. Nonetheless, I still remember when I read it for the first time — and I’d like to think I read a decent amount of business articles — I didn’t know what it meant. Not just the abbreviation, but also what it means to be a B2B company.

Another example. A fan of a client’s product advised not using certain terms to describe the client’s technical app for consumers. What he didn’t realize is that most of the client’s target audience know, need and use those terms. If we use the app fan’s suggested terms, people will never understand what the app does. And they’d never find the company because they wouldn’t use those search terms.

Simple test to see if your content suffers from the curse of knowledge:

Have a family member or a friend read it.

Yes, even if they’re not your target audience. They can tell you if it makes sense or not.

Thanks to Hank, I learned early on to think about what the reader may or may not know. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent cured of this disease. I don’t think I’ll ever be. It’s impossible to escape my own head. (Dagnabbit.)

What do you think of the bolded text? Or do you prefer headings? Personally, I prefer the latter. However, some folks say they prefer bolded sentences and phrases.

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Speech-to-Text Software Test Take 2

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 at 9:25 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 4 comments

When I had thumb surgery in 2008, I invested in voice recognition software to try to get work done. I spent most of the time fighting and correcting the Dragon Naturally Speaking. The one good thing that came out of the maddening experience was this funny speech-to-text software post.

Despite having little hope in software to help me while I recover from arm surgery, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to try the software that came with Windows 7. At least, I wasn’t throwing money away like I did with Dragon Naturally Speaking. Folks said that speech recognition apps had improved in the last few years.

Well, not in my case.

I completed the training tutorial and had a few shouting matches. My husband must’ve thought I went bonkers when he heard me yelling at the laptop.

I spoke slowly and put on my best speech forward. The crossed out text is what the software thinks I said. What I actually said appears in [brackets]. Here are the sound files of my dictating this letter: [original .wma] [converted .mp3]. Do I really sound like that?

Dear Voice Recognition Software, [During world recognition that when]

Next three [Let's see] how you do. Are you any better than one can not to write [Dragon Naturally] Speaking brown to the than eight [from 2008]? What are you dress adding [Or are you just as] temperamental?

Oon Caplan on my mother [I'm having ulnar nerve] (Aside: would you believe my maiden name is Kaplan?) decompression star Julie on [surgery] on my right arm on Tuesday, in king, to do a one to [December 18, 2012]. I don’t know how number that were the people were [long it'll be before] I can type halfway do badly the end of period. [decently with two hands].

Nonetheless, I’m away from [grateful] that I have horrendous and a burned rest am a newcomer accident [two hands and a voice even though it's not the clearest one]. Thank you for less than 10 listening.

This [Best],

Navarro [Meryl]

I spent another 10 minutes trying to spell my name. “R” gave me the biggest fit. I knew it was my weakest letter, so I tried telling it “R and in rabbit. R as in read” It interpreted that as a, i, and y. Seriously — Navarro? Meryl? Na-va-ro? Meh-ril? Do they sound anything alike?

“Two” from “two hands” changed the paragraph heading to header 2: big, bold, light blue. It was a 10-minute battle of wills trying to fix the paragraph formatting and telling the app I wanted to write “two.”

I’ll be getting an upgraded smartphone soon with voice recognition capabilities. Wanna bet that Siri and I won’t get along?

What’s your experience with voice recognition software?

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A Little Deaf Education

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 at 11:35 AM | Category: Tech 4 comments

I’ve been busy over at Bionic Ear Blog as two great blog posts inspired the two recent posts. I’m sharing them here as that blog and this one have different audiences. You may be interested in learning a little more about what it’s like for a deaf person to hear and the different types of captioned videos available.

Closed captioning symbol A Little Deaf EducationFurthermore, I want to open the door to your questions about deafness. Ask anything. I know how hard it is to ask someone such questions — unless you know the person very well — because you don’t know whether that person is sensitive or open. Ask away.

Closed-Captioned Video Examples has actual videos of different types of captioned videos so you can see how they’re different. If your business produces videos, it will give you things to consider in creating accessible videos. (This is only a small part of accessibility. There are also accessible videos for people who are blind.)

What Do Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants Sound Like? does exactly that and includes videos.

What questions do you have about deafness?

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Get Organized: Folder Naming Tip

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012 at 8:20 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 2 comments

meryl office Get Organized: Folder Naming TipI’m a neat-aholic. When I enter a kid’s messy room, my mind overloads and my body stiffens. Though I’ve trained myself to accept a little messiness in my home, the exception to the rule is my office space.

My youngest occasionally came into my office to color, play with toys or do projects. That was fine with me as long as his stuff goes with him when he left the office.

The neatness thing carries over into my cyber space. I organize my documents and emails into folders and subfolders. It lets me find things quickly. This way I don’t feel overwhelmed by all the files in one folder. Searching is an option, but finding files in organized folders is faster.

I ran into a new problem. In backing up my files and accessing the backup from another device, I’d see two folders with the same name.

For example, I have a top level folder for Clients and a subfolder for Others. I have another top level folder for Contacts and a subfolder for Others. In running a search, Others pops up and it isn’t clear where the file I need lives.

In another case, I needed to backup two folders with the same name and they appear as top level folders in the backup system.

The trick. Add another keyword to separate the generic names, such as others-clients and others-contacts. Beware this won’t always be possible as several folders are system folders. At least, you’ll cut down the confusion.

What tips do you have for managing your documents? How do you organize your cyber properties?

More tips and resources available on my Facebook page. Hope to see you there.

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Simplicity

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 at 6:12 PM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 3 comments

letter opener SimplicityIn reading about a letter opener that looks like a whale, my first thought was who needs a letter opener when a finger works fine? OK, sometimes it fights to dig in the little space in the corner. Sometimes it walks away with a shiny new paper cut. (How does something tiny hurt a lot?) Besides, I open my mail wherever I stand as I sort mail right away. A letter opener may not be within reach.

I have that whale letter opener and love it. Yes, the everyday arcane task of opening a letter is fun with the pink whale. Its skinny tail fits in everything and then zzzzipppppp! I love the tearing vibrations as the whale makes its way across the envelope.

Simplicity works. Imagine if the inventor had added bells and whistles. How silly would that be to blow the whistle or jingle the bell whenever I opened mail? “Hey! Gather around, the mail’s here!”

That’s what’s happening with apps today. Twitter’s new interface is live. It requires more steps to do tasks that took one or two steps with the old design. I waste too much time looking for features. Good interface design that’s intuitive doesn’t make you work hard to get around. (Many folks need to read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think Simplicity.)

For a long time, I used Palm Desktop to manage my tasks and calendar. Yes, the app that came with Palm Pilots. After I recycled my last Palm, I continued using Palm Desktop for years without the device because nothing measured up. Eventually, I moved to Google Calendar while continuing to use Palm for managing tasks.

Google’s tasks wasn’t ready for me because it didn’t have the needed recurring feature. All the other task apps had problems: overkill, missing features, no desktop version, no syncing with smartphone.

Then, I found gTasks. It has the recurring task feature and syncs with Google tasks and my smartphone. (Would you believe someone left a review on January 22 saying it took a long time to find an app replace the trusty old Palm? That says something about Palm despite its rocky last years.)

I’m not a Luddite. The opposite actually. I love my gadgets and technology. I’ve admired and appreciated a good website makeover. But developers think they need to offer everything to be all things to everyone. That just overwhelms potential users. We’d keep looking for a simpler product rather than settling for a bloated or confusing one.

Content is like that, too. Not all web pages need to be covered with words. A lot of great sites communicate with few words. Yes, we customers want to know as much as we can about a product or service. That’s why you have navigation and links to take us there when we’re ready. Too many directions and calls to action send us away from the website.

Mail’s here. Zzzzippppp!

What products do you love for its simplicity? What do you like about it? Have you had favorite products add too many features? Did you abandon it or stick with it?

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Is a Blog Right for Your Business Update

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 8:50 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments
black notebook Is a Blog Right for Your Business Update

Image from sxc.hu user typofi

Although I wrote Is a Blog Right for Your Business? in 2007, people still mention the article or contact me with questions after reading it. Blogging has changed a lot since then, but one paragraph remains true.

Some people like to read blogs, others like to read newsletters, still others like to rely on feeds and some read a few or all of them. No matter the method the information is distributed, each medium has one thing in common: content. Having a blog connects your newsletter, your website and your business with all of these readers.

More people probably ask whether they should start a blog for their business today in a world where we have zillions of blogs and social networks vying for our tired, information-overloaded eyes. In my original post, I say the biggest factor in starting a blog is how often you can update it.

I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve been updating this blog once or twice a week for a long time as I’ve gotten busier with clients and volunteer commitments. I’m not going to throw up a blog entry just to keep up my “blog X times a week” quota. You don’t have time to waste and I’m not going to take advantage of your time by posting garbage.

If you can post a valuable post, do it. Even if it means you can only write a post once a month. It’s a way to give your website fresh content, something search engines love to gobble up. You may not have much traffic, but at least your site won’t look too static. If you’re active in Twitter, it may help to add a Twitter feed to your website. This adds more freshness to your website to keep it looking alive.

Part two of the blogging for business article discusses the use of blogs to manage a website. My my my. We’ve come a long way. When WordPress added “Pages,” it simplified using the blogging app as a website content management system. Many other blogging apps followed suit adding website features for easier management. Many of those blog apps don’t call themselves that anymore. They say they’re good for creating blogs and websites.

How has blogging changed? What do you think of blogging for business? How often should blogs be updated, or does it matter?

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Outdated Software

Friday, November 11th, 2011 at 10:50 AM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 3 comments

When I bought a Flip camera in 2008, I also grabbed video editing software. Before buying the software, I researched for a good editor that wasn’t fancy or power-packed. Just enough to get the job done without spending much time with the user manual. With new software, I can usually dig right in. However, past experience with editing software involved more reading time than editing time. After talking to a few folks and reading reviews, I went with Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum Version 8.

I installed Vegas and never used it. Eventually, I uninstalled it because it took up unneeded resources and space. I decided to do a little winter cleaning by identifying the largest files on the computer. Three HD videos made the list, so that prompted me reinstall the editing software.

It can’t open the .m2ts files. This 2008 software has “HD” on the box, but it couldn’t open these files. I went to the website to see if the company had a patch or upgrade so it could open these files. It turned out they no longer support that version of the software. How hard would it be to create a plug-in to import these HD files? A search of user forums yielded nothing. I guess not too many people are using version 8 or they have cameras that don’t produce .m2st files.

Having learned my lesson that I don’t make time for editing videos, I looked around for freeware and cheap converter to convert these HD files into one Vegas 8 could handle. Unfortunately, no freeware app can handle these big files. Actually, there was one and it failed. Besides, I wasn’t comfortable using it because there had been concerns about the app having malware. (While working on this, I came across 10 Free Apps for Working with Video, but none could solve this problem.)

The trial version of Sony Vegas 11 converted the three big videos into one. Windows Media Player (Scroll way down to MPEG-4 section for why) couldn’t play it. Two other players could. Whew. I’m out of the video editing business. Back to using the old digital camera for videos.

I understand software companies have to draw the line in how long they support older versions of software. Is it fair to stop supporting a three-year-old app? Maybe Sony would’ve had a fan in me if they had a solution other than upgrade to 11.

What’s your take on software and support?

And now for your weekly links …

Brain food …

For fun …

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Are Your Painters Standing around While You Pick Out Colors?

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at 10:38 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 2 comments

This guest post comes from Cal Evans (no relation that we know of), author of Avoiding a Goat Rodeo: How to get the website you want.

paint on the wall Are Your Painters Standing around While You Pick Out Colors?

Image from sxc.hu user ba1969

I’m a lucky man. I get to talk with a lot of developers and web development shops. No matter where in the world I am, one constant refrain I hear is, “Yep, we are done with the site, waiting on the client now to write the content.” OK, so most of my European friends don’t say, “Yep,” but you get the idea. Consistently, content is the last part of the equation in a website and one of the speed bumps many developers hit in deploying a website on time.

Don’t be a speed-bump

No matter what type of website you have, your content should be part of the planning stage. By the time you and your developer finish the planning stage, you will have thought through every page in the initial launch and know what content goes on it.

If you are building an application, your content list may be light. You may need nothing more than “About us” page, “Contact us” page and any other window dressing in a standard website. If you’re building an e-commerce website, you need to know what initial products that will be in the system and what you need for them. Do you need pictures and descriptions from the vendor? Do you need to produce a video showing your products in action? Think through these questions and a hundred more that will come to you during the planning stage.

Your painters wait

Software development is like building a house. When you’re building a house, you don’t wait until the walls are up and the painters arrive before you select the colors to use. You meet with your architect and plan that out long in advance so that when the painting crew arrives, the paint is already there for them.

The same concept applies to your website project. The planning phase of your website is the time to determine what content needs to go on the walls of your website — not after your developers finish.  One of the things you should have when you finish the planning phase is a “content list.” This is a list of the pages on your website that require content.  The “About Us” page is a good example. Your developers will be able to create the page on your website called “About Us,” but you will have to write the content for the page.

Once you have your content list, get started. If you are responsible for the “History of the company” page, or the page containing headshots of all the partners, don’t wait until the week of the milestone to start gathering your materials or hiring a photographer, do it now. Surprise your developers by being ready when they come to you for your content.

Wordsmith is a noble profession

A good friend of mine just joined a mid-sized company with its own web team. She was telling me about all the cool people that she works with on the team.

“… and they even have their own copywriter,” she said.

It struck me that this surprised her. Then, I realized the sad truth. Most people assume that owning a word processor qualifies them for being a copywriter.

If you’re spending a good chunk of money to have your website professionally created, don’t skimp when it comes to the copy. Budget for a copywriter to create all the written content you need. If you need video, find a professional who specializes in video for the web.

You are the expert in your industry. It’s your job to give guidance and make sure everything stays on message. You need to hire an expert in content creation to work with you to make sure your content is as professional as your website.

Let the painters do their job

Professionally produced website and web-based applications don’t come cheap. Given the amount of work it takes to produce them, they shouldn’t be. Your content, however, isn’t the place to cut corners. Work with professionals to produce content that highlights your business.

Deliver the content during the planning stage before it’s needed to ensure your website goes live on time. Don’t let the painters stand around.

About Cal Evans: CalEvans is a professional programmer, writer and speaker. His passion in life is helping people do great things with technology. His latest book, Avoiding a Goat Rodeo: How to get the website you want does just that.

Cal is lucky enough to be married to the lovely and talented Kathy, a fact that both surprises and delights him daily.

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Contrast

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 at 5:12 PM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 2 comments

Because of my deafness, I rely on lipreading to listen. While I’ve worn hearing aids since I was a baby, I’ve always needed to read lips to “hear.” I do catch things from time to time without reading lips, especially a song I know by heart. I can follow it when I play it on my iPod.

ostrich Contrast

Photo from sxc.hu user doc_

Listening Contrast

But it’s harder to follow a song playing it on the computer when there’s background noise. One cool feature in hearing aids is the T-coil. It blocks out background sounds so you can hear during a telephone conversation. It also works the same way for headphones.

This morning, Paul (the spouse) comes to talk to me. He stands right where the shades behind me reflected on his face turning it into a striped one. Although I could see his lips, the stripes distract me that reading his lips is as reading the mouth of an ostrich. So I ask him to move over a little so his face falls between the two blinds shedding the stripe look.

If you compare my lipreading skills with and without hearing aids, you can tell when I’m not wearing hearing aids because it can take a few “Huhs?” and “Whats?” before I catch something. “My mom needs the mop,” can easily be “My mom’s knees pop.”

I listen better when there’s a strong contrast between the words, visuals and sounds. A lighting issue, too much background noise or no hearing aid can all interfere with the listening experience. Just like on websites with little contrast between the background and the text. Poor contrast creates a more difficult online reading experience.

Reading Contrast

Online content requires a different style of type than print does. What works in print doesn’t always work online and vice versa.

In newspapers and magazines, what color are most of the words? What color is the background? Black words on white backgrounds, right? You may see color on occasion like in the print edition of USA Today, but usually the paper uses it for section names (green for money, red for sports, etc.), graphs, photos and other visuals.

Then why have we seen a bad trend of sites using a variation of gray text on white backgrounds? There’s little contrast. I have excellent reading vision (for now!) and it strains my eyes to read this. What of those with not so great reading vision?

Maybe web designers think black on white is boring because it has been used for so long. The first websites from my first foray on the Internet in 1993 all used white backgrounds, black text and blue links. It worked well.

Gray text challenges our scanning abilities because we have to work harder to distinguish the gray from the white. This doesn’t mean to avoid gray on white altogether. Some gray — just like some italics — is okay, but not when they show up in lots of paragraphs.

Granted, I’d rather read gray on white than black on hot pink or blue on red (red does NOT make a good background for a lot of content). The key is to have enough contrast without harsh colors. I don’t follow some people back in Twitter because I can’t read their content. One person uses yellow for links on a white background. Couldn’t see them at all.

Do you struggle to read online content because of poor contrast? Why do you think many sites continue using gray on white? How does a light contrast between words and background affect your reading?

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Links: Mavs and Dads 2011 Edition

Friday, June 17th, 2011 at 4:51 PM | Category: Books, Business, Life Tips, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Tech, Writing No comments

I was born and bred in Fort Worth. I’ve lived in the Dallas / Fort Worth area for my entire life except for the six years I lived in Washington, DC. So all my favorite teams are the ones from here including the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks. I stuck with all of ‘em through great years and forgettable years. When folks kept saying the Mavs were a joke and never contenders, I reminded them of the Mavs’ good years in the ’80s with Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Roy Tarpley and Brad Davis.

Thanks to Donald Carter for bringing the team to Dallas. Thanks to Mark Cuban for turning them into champions in a short 11 years. The Mavs almost did it in 2006, you know?

dad usaf Links: Mavs and Dads 2011 Edition

Meryl's Dad in USAF Uniform

Dads. Happy Father’s Day to all the involved dads out there who play catch with the kids, take them to school, help them with homework and be there for them. I’m lucky to be married to one of those dads. My dad (in loving memory) was one, too. We played catch many times, he took me to lots of Texas Ranger games, he embarrassed me on my way to school by waving at me while taking his morning walk and he was always there for me.

Best advice for the week: How to deal with criticism in one single step: “Don’t care. You’re not going to please everybody.” Even the nicest people have a few non-fans. You can produce the most beautiful work product and your boss, editor, client loves it. Someone, somewhere out there will hate it.

Brain food…

For fun because we’re allowed…

 

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