Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Looking Good on Paper Is Not the Same Thing As Being Good

When hiring a professor, nearly every college uses traditional criteria. Perhaps the most important is whether the applicant has a graduate degree.

On one hand, credentials are an important part of a school’s brand. Given that students are coughing up an arm and a leg for today’s tuition, it’s helpful when a school can boast that “every single one of our faculty holds an advanced degree.” Indeed, this percentage contributes to a school’s ranking.

This makes sense, especially from a marketing perspective. And yet, this description pertains primarily to tenure-track professors, whose full-time job is in academe.

By contrast, consider adjunct professors—people who teach as a side gig. These folk typically have another job that pays the bills; they don’t teach for the money, but because they love doing it.

In other words, adjuncts are the JV team.

Here, then, is the question: should the JV team be held to the same standard as varsity? (For the sake of essentialization, let’s put aside the pay disparity.) For most colleges, the answer is clear: every professor, regardless of rank, must have a Masters degree or more. But this blanket rule seems myopic. Isn’t it preferable to judge each person on his own merits, rather than deploying a one-diploma-fits-all catchall? Isn’t a scalpel a better judge of ability than a sledgehammer?

Fair enough. But shouldn’t educators be well-educated? Shouldn’t they master the theories of pedagogy before they practice on live minds? Just as we require everyone from a manicurist to a lawyer to get licensed, so we should demand certain credentials of a professor.

That sounds reasonable, right? It does… until you talk with longtime instructors. They’ll tell you that teaching is more of an art than a science. Just because you earned a PhD from Princeton in 17th-century French literature doesn’t mean you know how to make Molière come alive for two hours at the front of a classroom of easily distracted students.

So where does this leave us? Ultimately, what you think boils down to which you care more about: rules, or outcomes? Put another way: is your primary goal to perpetuate the perception of excellence, or to make that perception an everyday reality?

Let’s not rule out an entire class of people based solely on their resume. As any user of Ashley Madison now well-knows, who you are on paper (or pixels) is often decidedly different from who you are in person.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Problem With PowerPoint Is Worse Than You Thought

“Think about what happens when you open PowerPoint. A blank format slide appears that contains space for words—a title and subtitle. This presents a problem. There are very few words in a Steve Jobs presentation. Now think about the first thing you see in the drop-down menu under Format: Bullets & Numbering. This leads to the second problem. There are no bullet points in a Steve Jobs presentation. The software itself forces you to create a template that represents the exact opposite of what you need to speak like Steve!”

—Carmine Gallo, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Most Inspiring Communicators All Share This One Quality

It's the “ability to create something meaningful out of esoteric or everyday products,” as Carmine Gallo writes in The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. He offers up the following examples:

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz does not sell coffee. He sells a “third place” between work and home.

Financial guru Suze Orman does not sell trusts and mutual funds. She sells the dream of financial freedom.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs did not sell computers. He sold tools to unleash human potential.

Cisco CEO John Chambers does not sell routers and switches that make up the backbone of the Internet. He sells human connections that change the way we live, work, play, and learn.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Problem With PDFs (Continued)

The Urban Institute joins the bandwagon:

“Although PDFs comprise the bulk of our content—and certainly our most valuable content—they account for less than 4% of our total pageviews. None of the PDFs we’ve published since March 1 of last year has received over 5,000 pageviews, and only nine have received more than 1,000 pageviews ...

“In an increasingly digital and mobile world, continuing to rely on the PDF greatly increases our risk of becoming irrelevant.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Which Headline Would You Click On?

How Gawker makes its sausage:

  1. Real-Life Kramer Breaks Door Instead of Delivering Unhinged Racist Rant
  2. Hulu’s Seinfeld Apartment Exhibit Broke on the First Day
  3. Dumbass Impersonating Kramer Breaks Replica Seinfeld Apartment Door
  4. No Soup For Man Who Broke Seinfeld Door
  5. Like Seinfeld, Man Who Broke Seinfeld Door Is Not Funny or Interesting
  6. Man Who Broke Door Definitely Not Master of the Domain of Jerry Seinfeld’s Fake Apartment
  7. “Real-Life Kramer” Breaks Door Instead of Delivering Unhinged Racist Rant
  8. Man Pretending to Be Fake Neighbor of TV Character Breaks Door
  9. “Real-Life Kramer” Breaks Door Instead of Delivering Unhinged Racist Rant
  10. Streaming Video Service Airs Sitcom, Yadda Yadda Yadda, Fake Door Is Now Broken

Winner here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How Gmail Handles Preview Text

An email reply, dated April 22, 2015, from Brayden H., a technical specialist with Google Apps for Work.

I have spent some time this afternoon digging around in our code base and testing the behavior for myself in my test accounts.

What I have found is some variability in the number of characters that are selected to be in the snippet. Gmail is doing some amount of interpretation when deciding how much text to display. If there are additional spaces, or if a periods (.) are used you can get the snippet size to vary slightly, but within a narrow range.

Gmail takes the initial text of the body and uses it as the snippet shown in the thread list view. It will ignore spaces and line breaks and go straight to the actual text. If there is a line break it will convert it to a space in the snippet. I have gotten the front end to display different length snippets depending on the content, but they are consistently between 90 and 101 characters (based on testing done so far).

The simple answer is that you cannot prevent these from showing. Gmail will grab the first set of characters and display them if the recipient selected preference to show the snippets.

Smart Publishers Are Medium-Agnostic

“Push represents a distinctive way of thinking about style and distribution, one that other organizations might benefit from. Rather than force a unified ESPN style onto every social-media platform, the team takes care to learn the local language of every territory of the Internet—experimenting with live feeds on its homepage, studying which stories fly furthest on Facebook, and practicing the goofball patois of Snapchat.

“ESPN’s internal motto—‘to serve sports fans anytime, anywhere’—is repeated so often at the company that, on a walk through its Bristol campus, the phrase passes through stages, from meaning to cliche, and then, perhaps, back to meaning. ESPN is impressively agnostic about where to put it best stuff, sharing ad-free video clips on Snapchat; tweeting its long feature pieces days before the magazine slips into mail boxes; and making an infinity of videos, podcasts, articles, and other forms of content free on its website and in other forms.

ESPN’s Plan to Dominate the Post-TV World

Related: This Is Why Quartz and BuzzFeed Are Today’s Smartest Publishers

Best Radio Ad Ever


The Award for the Best Twitter Bio Goes to @LATimesOpinion

Related: What Your Twitter Bio Says About You

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Greatest Threat to Companies Isn’t External Competition. It’s Internal Stagnation

“After COO Woodside noted that Dropbox’s rivals were innovating at a faster pace, Ferdowsi took the criticism to heart and ‘completely changed the product-release approach,’ Woodside says. The result: Dropbox rolled out 75 new features and product improvements in the final quarter of last year, up from 49 in the third quarter.”

Dropbox Is Under Siege—but It’s Not Slowing Down

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Donald Trump Explains How to Reframe the Conversation With a Reporter

“When a reporter asks me a tough question, I try to frame a positive answer, even if that means shifting the ground. For example, if someone asks me what negative effects the world’s tallest building might have on the West Side, I turn the tables and talk about how New Yorkers deserve the world’s tallest building, and what a boost it will give the city to have that honor again. When a reporter asks why I build only for the rich, I note that the rich aren’t the only ones who benefit from my buildings. I explain that I put thousands of people to work who might otherwise be collecting unemployment, and that I add to the city’s tax base every time I build a new project.”

How Donald Trump Plays the Press, in His Own Words

The Problem With PDFs (Continued)

Sound familiar?

“[Consider] an average user of a U.S. government website: a 45-year-old PC user with Internet Explorer 10. Her child has a fever after eating at a restaurant, and wants to look up information on foodborne diseases. She goes to the CDC website, puts in ‘food poisoning’ in the search, and gets a link to an article on ‘What is food poisoning?’ When she clicks the link, however, she gets a prompt. It asks her to install the free PDF reader. She’s redirected to the Acrobat website, where she goes through the process of installing it—assuming she’s computer savvy enough. Once installed, the browser must be restarted, if not the computer itself.

“OK, installed! Now back to that article. She goes to again, searches, and gets the same link. This time it opens up, but then a popup with Adobe’s license agreement comes up. She irritably says ‘OK’ to the legal folderol and now, finally, can see the article. It’s five pages long, and structured with two columns. She’s on her laptop, so she can’t read the columns without zooming in, and then dragging with her finger or mouse around to read the document. When she finishes reading column 1, she has to drag all the way up to the top of the page again to read column two. Using the search feature doesn’t help much, because the screen is still jumping around from column to column as she tries to find all the time ‘children’ are mentioned in the article. At some point, she gives up in disgust and calls her pediatrician.

PDFs: A Digital Content Detour

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Is Segmenting a Small Email List Worthwhile?

Q: All the talk about segmentation is well and good, but when you produce a newsletter for a niche field, and people sign up for it to find out about news in the field, segmenting it down further seems just wrong to me.

A: The bigger your list, the more valuable segmentation is. Nonetheless, even with smaller lists, segmentation can be useful. Should you be sending the same exact email to your power users (those who open and click on your every email) as you send to your inactives (those who haven't opened anything from you in six months)? Should every person on your list get a call to action about a local issue in Maine, or just those in the area? Should members get the same content as freeloaders? Even small differences (in content, tone, packaging) can return big results.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Problems With PDFs

“Every website I surveyed in the research for this article had a significant portion of its content locked up in PDF files, a format that actively impedes the goal of informing the public and driving conversation. PDF files often go unindexed by search engines (limiting discovery), are difficult to share and all but impossible to read on mobile devices. As a result, PDFs are highly unlikely to be read by any audience, at any time, on any device.

“In an analysis of its own PDF reports conducted last year, the World Bank found that 1/3 of all reports published in PDF format by the bank had never been downloaded. Fewer than 13% had been downloaded more than 250 times, making PDF files — the dominant format think tanks use to present information — almost wholly ineffective in helping think tanks achieve their goals.

The Digital Think Tank

Related: No One Reads PDFs. That’s Why Academics Need to Think Like Journalists

Monday, July 20, 2015

Twitter Needs a Mission Statement

“Over the last nine years, I have written almost a quarter-million words about Twitter—in blog posts, columns, a book, and, of course, on Twitter. And yet, if you ask me what Twitter actually is, I can’t answer that question.”

Nick Bilton

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Greece Sounds Like a Third World County

“Armed with borrowed fortunes, a series of governments began hiring public employees by the hundreds of thousands and plying them with perks. Bonuses were handed out for arriving at work on time and knowing how to use a computer. Forestry workers got bonuses for the hardship of having to work outdoors. Each state employee got a yearly bonus worth two monthly paychecks, regardless of performance.

“Greece’s government, meanwhile, was as uninterested in collecting taxes as Greek citizens were in paying them. Greeks chronically underreported their earnings, and in the rare cases when they would get caught, an envelope of cash to the tax man would usually be enough to avoid punishment.

Greece Tempts the Fates

Why Taking Notes by Typing Is Bad for You

Studies show that students learn better when they take notes by hand. As a professor at Dartmouth has observed, “The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.”

Addendum (7/22/2015): Kudos to a friend for pointing out that the New Yorker article is founded on a 2003 study. “What kind of intellectual bases a technological claim on a study built on 12-year-old technology?” he says. “There’s a case to be made for dumping laptops, but as of now it appears to me to be a matter of preference, not empiricism. Non-producing academics need something provocative to fight about so they can feel alive.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

When You’d Rather Stay in Bed Than Hit the Gym

The first stage of saying, in effect, “Hey! You over there. You’re wrong about baseball!” consisted of three workouts and six meals a day until it consisted of none, that final week when Bryce Harper consumed only juice. Seven different raw juices. Over the final two weeks, before he exposed each of his muscles to ESPN’s photographers, he put salt in his drinking water so he could hydrate himself without gaining weight.

On the final day, before he stripped naked and recorded the results for the world, he rose for one final workout, but when he went to refresh himself, he spit the water out. When he arrived at the field at the University of Nevada Las Vegas for the shoot, his system was completely depleted. He shoved raw, white potatoes down his throat because he knew the glucose and glycine they contained would run straight to his muscles—which yearned for something, any kind of nourishment they could find.

“It makes you pop,” Harper said. “It makes you stand out.”

Bryce Harper Wants Baseball to Benefit From the Attention He Receives

Monday, July 6, 2015

These 6 Soccer Pros Were Rejected From Youth Teams. It Made Them Great

1. Morgan Brian
2. Lauren Holiday
3. Kelley O’Hara
4. Meghan Klingenberg
5. Christen Press
6. Carli Lloyd

Gwendolyn Oxenham