Thursday, May 24, 2007

"My audience doesn't use the internet"

I've heard more educators say - "My audience doesn't use the internet" or they "don't have email". If your audience isn't extremely poor (i.e. living in assisted housing or homeless), maybe you could do them more good by teaching them about the benefits of using the computer and the internet than anything else you can teach them. Teach them how to learn and the best tool to do that with is a computer connected to the internet.

If you are dealing with business people (farmers are business people) and they aren't computer literate - they won't be business people (or your clients) very much longer. In today's world, if you aren't keeping up, you're falling behind.

Diane Ducharme (an Extension Agent who works with vegetable producers) and I were talking about this after lunch today and brainstormed about how becoming computer literate could help a vegetable farmer. Some thoughts we came up with:

  • weather info
  • pesticide data sheets and labels
  • access the most current Ag Chem Manual
  • comparison shop for equipment and parts - save money by finding the cheapest sources
  • buy equipment, parts, anything else - and have it delivered to the farm
  • parts manuals (that the hard copy that came with the piece have been lost)
  • follow the markets
  • reduce accountant costs by using accounting software
  • keep field records - production, inputs, pesticide applications, etc.
  • keep up to date with the news - including the production magazines
  • communicate more easily with the Extension Agent
These are just a few - how many more can you come up with?

Wouldn't some educational programs teaching those who aren't computer literate about these tools be more beneficial than teaching them about the most recent advances in production technology?

Which is going to help them keep the farm or stay in business longer? Teaching them about the latest advance or teaching them how to find out about the latest advances from now on?

Reminds me of the saying about teaching a man to fish.

More thoughts on Twitter

I've been using Twitter for a month or so now and have come to like it. When I start my day, I usually check my Twitbin or Tweetbar, then on to my 'a-list' folder of RSS Reader (currently I'm using Google Reader). If I find something interesting that prompts a post, I'll post a blog article - like I'm doing now. Then I check my e-mail. That reminds me - let me go look at the subject/senders and see if there is anything that can't wait another 5 minutes - nope there isn't.
Slacker Manager put it this way, "Some have called Twitter a form of microblogging and I think that’s a helpful way of looking at it."

Some of the people I follow occasionally post useful links or mention topics that will direct my learning. Others I follow for their humorous comments. Some I follow to develop or improve a relationship. Most of the people I'm following now are people I might see or even talk to just once or twice a year. Twitter let's me keep up with what's going on in their lives on a daily basis, so when we do meet, we can have much richer conversations.

I'm looking forward to the day when I have more of my co-workers in my friends & followers lists. Then - we could ask questions and carry on psuedo asynchronous conversations in Twitter space. - sort of like an archived chat room that we could all keep check on - without cluttering email boxes. My biggest frustration is the frequency that twitter is 'down'. I suspect this is the price of success - growing faster than they had imagined.

If you are interested in getting started with Twitter, here's a good read. "The Several Habits of Wildly Successful Twitter Users"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Evaluating Educational Blogs

It's hard to know the impact of your blog. If you're lucky, 1% of the readers leave a comment - maybe more if you are wrong or writing about things based on opinions. How many of my readers actually learn from what I write? How many people read what I write? I can't count page hits or user sessions - they can give me trends and who knows how many bots and spider hits are there as opposed to real eyeballs. Or how many of the real eyeballs landed here and said 'this isn't what I wanted' and left. Another problem is that they don't count the people who read the posts in their RSS reader or have it emailed to them via a service like FeedBurner.

One tool I recently came across (still in beta) is RateItAll. You can get a widget to put on your blog that lets readers (assuming they come to your blog page) rate your blog. Come to this blog's page and rate it. Ideally, something like this would be on every article - so I can get some feedback on each article. But still, I miss all the people who don't come to the blog's site to read the blog.

So, I'm left to judge the effectiveness of this blog by the comments I get from personal conversations with the people I'm writing this for (like Anne Adrian said - "Write to a particular person or a small group with similar interest"). Do I see references to my writings in other's (those for whom I'm writing) blogs? Questions I get related to things I've written about are also another indication of its success.

Based on these measures, it is successful. But, are these measures quantifiable? I guess, theoretically, you could keep count of all those comments and questions, but not realistically. How can you justify to the bean counters that posting to a blog is beneficial to the company?

If your measure of success is the number of widgets sold, then you could use Google Analytics to count how many clicked through to the "Purchase" page. But, if your objective is to change people's behavior through education, how do you measure that?

I'm still searching for answers to these questions. If you have any, PLEASE share them!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can Blogs Replace Newsletters

For several months I've been thinking about whether hard copy newsletters should be (and could be) replaced or augmented with blogs. Many send out periodic (monthly or quarterly) newsletters with information for their clients. I used to write a monthly newsletter and have abandoned that for a couple of blogs - this one for non-EIT supported topics and I contribute to Tech Talk for EIT supported stuff. Is this the right thing to do for newsletters whose target audience is the general public or a more narrow group such as dairy producers?

Can a blog replace the newsletter? Today, I would say yes and no. There is a part of most audiences that can't or won't read the blog, so you have to continue sending the hard copy newsletter. But, you can start weaning those who receive the hard copy version over to the blog version.

Make your blog better than the hard copy issue - put more in your blog articles than your hard copy articles - because you aren't limited by the size of the piece of paper. Use photographs and links to related information - because you can. In the hard copy newsletter, be sure to mention that there is more in the blog and where to find it. This will encourage your clients to opt for the method that is better, faster, easier and cheaper for you to deliver.

In your blog, post 'Right Now' articles along with the same articles you put in your hard copy newsletter (get all the mileage you can). If they read the same article weeks sooner and more, and better articles, eventually they'll drop the hard copy preference.

I think more of your audience is using these technologies than you think. Technorati is currently tracking 81.2 million blogs. That means that a significant portion of the general public is reading blogs and technologically competent enough to be using tools like RSS readers to get their information. If they aren't, perhaps this is a training opportunity for you to really help your clients learn how to get information.

If they aren't doing so today, they will be soon! Do you want to be 'established' before a critical mass of your audience is ready? Do you want to be seen as 'out of date' with the percentage of your audience that is already using RSS readers and wonders why they can't get your information that way?

If your clients are running a business and aren't capable of using these tools, they won't be in business much longer. Do them a favor and help them learn.

I often hear "My clients prefer hard copy newsletters". I wonder if they were asked 'would they prefer receiving it via email for free or paying $1.00 per issue for hard copy' - (it costs near that or more if you figure postage, copying and staff time printing, labeling, preparing for mail and mailing) how many would still opt for the hard copy?

I also wonder how they would answer if they were informed that the online articles would be delivered as they were written rather than waiting weeks for them to be collected, formatted and mailed?

Another bonus of blogging is that it is easy for multiple people to contribute like Tim and Diane are doing with Master Your Garden.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Using a News Reader

Why use a News Reader (i.e. Google Reader, Newsgator, Netvibes or 100's of others)?

The web is changing. You may have heard the term Web 2.0 - what does this mean? It means that the way you use the web should change. One thing to change is how you get your information. There is so much new information being generated in your field - no matter what your field is - that you can't keep using the old way of browsing to keep up. You have to use the tools that bring what's changing to you. That's where an news reader (aka feed reader, RSS reader, agrigator) comes to your rescue.

Whenever you are looking at a page that changes frequently, check to see if it offers a feed that you can add to your feed reader. In Firefox 2, there will be the familiar feed icon in the location panel. In MSIE 7, there is similar icon on the toolbar.

Clicking on it in Firefox 2 will give you options for subscribing to this feed.

MSIE 7 will add it to your Favorites Center. You can copy the URL from any page where the feed icon turns orange and subscribe to it in your favorite feed reader.

Anne Adrian posted an excellent article "How to use a news reader" that includes step-by-step instructions and examples of Extension blogs that demonstrate how blogs can be used by Extension professionals.

For more information on comparing agrigators go to:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A graphical dictionary

Scouting around, I found this site: Visuwords. It is a graphical dictionary. It's hard to describe, you just have to go there and try it out. Look up a word with multiple meanings like "network" to get the full effect. I can see this easily replacing the thesaurus I use.

Position your pointer over the word to get the definition.

Pretty cool looking - and useful.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Why Twitter???

Anne (aafromaa) asked for a reason to try twitter. Kevin (k1v1n) answered - because it is fun.

Like Anne, I couldn't see a compelling reason to use Twitter. But, after a couple weeks of using it and a late night discussion with Robert Neely, I finally figured it out - at least a reason for me.

I don't have much face-to-face contact or even telephone contact with most of the people that I work with. Usually it is IM, email and I might see them a couple times a year. When we do get together, I don't know much about what's going on in their life - either personal or professional outside of the project or problem we're working on.

Twitter lets me maintain or improve a connection with my friends. It is a social networking tool. It's amazing how nice it is to know what my friends are doing or thinking right now. It's like a little reminder to think about them and make a mental connection. I hope that when they post, they occasionally think of me.

Another neat use of Twitter was when Beth (bnr1) twittered that she was getting ready for an online class she was leading. It reminded me (I hadn't forgotten Beth) that it was almost time to connect. So, this can also be a marketing tool! Beth uses it effectively to remind me that she is working on the next class - a week or so out.

I was trying to explain Twitter to my wife - she looks at me like I've lost my mind. But she works in an office and has that social network in the face-to-face environment, so she doesn't need twitter - yet. When more of her friends that she hasn't seen in years get on, then I'm sure she'll join in too.