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Beyond Content Management

Nobody is excited by content. The word itself implies a sterility and blandness that is antithetical to our clients' work. And when you build systems to create and manage content, the resultant experience feels like, well, content. So we don't.

Each of our clients has a unique and compelling story to tell. Battles to save vanishing species. Initiatives to preserve our history. Products to change people's lives. Our job isn't merely to build apps that hold these organizations' content. It's to help them tell their stories in the digital medium. We build systems to create and manage stories.

But what's the difference?

Content is a flat and singular notion, so content management experiences almost always fall into one of two categories:

Contrived (aka Too Rigid)

In systems designed to manage content, stories are treated as a series of data points. A title. A picture. Body text. That's it (deal with it).

Editors are forced to break down their stories into contrived pieces to fit them into a predefined set of fields. The editor loses control of the stories, and the stories lose their character.

Oftentimes, to make up for the constraints, the system will introduce an endless list of options to provide the illusion of flexibility. These efforts typically serve only to render the system bafflingly complex and unintuitive.

Unguided (aka Too Free)

In response to the shackles of contrived content management experiences, many instead favor what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tools for managing content. These tools give the editor more control, but they are complex, and difficult to use. Every possible decision is left to the editor. Layout. Colors. Font. Sizing. Everything.

So to a certain extent, the tool gets in the way of telling the story. And it's quite often difficult to achieve the consistency necessary to communicate a story in the context of a larger brand or initiative.

Paper Prototyping, Revisited

Paper prototyping is the kind of activity that you practice in school but don’t see a lot of in the real world. At least that’s been my experience here at Viget where we tend to collaborate on the whiteboard and then move on to functional prototypes to help capture and experiment with interactions.  

Paper prototyping is a design process that uses paper materials to create a rough representation of a design. The prototype can be tested quickly and then discarded or improved upon. This video demonstrates the process of conducting a test with a paper prototype. It’s a great example of a paper prototype in action.  

I recently revisited paper prototyping — not as a tool for testing and validation but as a process for exploration and collaboration. I ran a paper prototyping workshop with interested folks at Viget so we could flex our paper prototyping muscles and re-examine paper prototyping as a tool for ideation.

Five Characteristics (and Examples) of Successful Digital Campaigns

When I gave my talk to the sixth class of Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (EWCL), a key topic I covered dealt with common characteristics of successful digital campaigns I’ve encountered over the years. These pertain largely to cause-based initiatives given my work at Viget with organizations like WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Trust of Historic Preservation; but, you can imagine the elements being applied to other industries or efforts.

Timely Product Development

Having recently enjoyed an incredible weekend at our Pebble Rocks Boulder hackathon, I'm once again reminded of how little time it actually takes to build incredible products. And once again I'm baffled that so many companies seem so comfortable working slowly.

On Speed and Risk

When building safety systems for climbing, mountaineers have long relied on the acronym "ERNEST" to recall the attributes of a truly safe system. "ERNES" encompasses all the characteristics you might traditionally associate with safety (Equalized, Redundant, Non-Extending, and Strong if you care to know). The final "T", however, can be rather surprising to the unfamiliar: Timely.

Speed is not just a secondary consideration in climbing. It's not a "nice-to-have as long as we can still have everything else". It is a first-class necessity. Given the challenging, real-world constraints of the climber's environment, sacrificing strength for speed can often result in a much safer and more successful climb overall.

The technology startup landscape is an equally dynamic and challenging environment that demands an equally pragmatic (and at times, scary) risk management philosophy.

Speed is Scary

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

Reid Hoffman

When your life or your business is on the line, it's natural to want to take things slow. But that's exactly what you shouldn't do.

Considering all possible risks can be a terrifying affair. A careful and thorough risk assessment often reveals that you're almost guaranteed to be injured on your journey. Danger is an unavoidable component of the endeavor. Only the rational consideration and management of all these risks can ensure that the injury sustained is superficial, not life-ending.

The dangers of moving too quickly are easily apparent. Nobody wants to be embarrassed by a buggy product. Nobody wants harsh criticism. Nobody wants dissatisfied customers. The emotional elements of these consequences are too much for many to overcome. They are real concerns, but they are often non-lethal. They hurt but they don't kill.

The dangers of moving too slowly on the other hand, are less visible, but are more disastrous and often more likely. You could build the wrong product, run out of capital before gaining traction, or be overcome by an unseen, fast-moving competitor.

It's human nature to overestimate the consequences of more visible dangers. But fight to consider all of your company's true dangers rationally, and it will almost always be apparent that you should be moving more quickly.

Making Cross-Client Google Analytics Tracking Easy with Trackomatic

We do a lot of analytics work here at Viget. As we set up Google Analytics tracking on websites, we often find ourselves repeating the same setups across clients. To keep ourselves DRY and reduce our setup time, we’ve standardized some of this cross-client tracking into a JavaScript file we call Trackomatic.