Not Content with Content: Lavacon Content Strategy Conference 2014

What is content strategy?

I have to admit that I was a bit confused about what the term “content strategy” means. When I came to Lavacon, a content strategy conference, in Portland, Oregan, I felt excited about learning everything it had to offer. Content strategy is a fairly new term. It came into existence in the late 2000s and started with web development. Kristina Halverson, author of Content Strategy and the Web and a presenter at Lavacon, wrote one of the most popular definitions of content strategy:

“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”

The content part of the above definition can be written documents, documents on the web, emails, etc. It can also be video-based or even charts and graphs.

The “useful, usable” part of the definition is important because it involves using feedback and metrics from the client. This feedback is used to make sure that the content can be used as a solution for a problem and that the client isn’t given extraneous information.

If a company is providing content strategy correctly, it can ensure that the company’s clients receivethe same information regardless of who they talk to because good content strategy encourages communication across all business units.

Picking the right enterprise-level technology for a company

I attended many panels over the course of the conference. One of my favorites was about purchasing new enterprise-level technology. Rather than talking about different tools specifically, Liz Fraley, the CEO of Single-Sourcing Solutions, discussed in her presentation “How to Pick a Tool” processes that companies can use to choose which enterprise tool is right for them.

The first question that she asked at the beginning of the panel was what processes the companies have in place when selecting the correct enterprise tools. Unsurprisingly, most of the people attending the panel had no idea, other than they need to send a request through to the information technology department.

Ordering enterprise-level technology is completely different from shopping for technology for your own home computer. You can’t read a few reviews and expect to be knowledgeable enough to make a decision. Fraley offered up some practical ideas for the selection of a new enterprise tool. One was to take training courses from different companies to see what the new tool is like in practice.

A step that some other presenters suggested was to do a technology pilot program, but Fraley didn’t agree. She compared piloting enterprise tools to having several different contractors come in to re-design your kitchen: it wasn’t practical and it meant nothing could get done in the interim.

Fraley ended the presentation by revealing a variety of questions that she uses when consulting with different companies to implement content management tools. The questions were made to gain a deeper understanding of a situation and company in order to create a requirement analysis.

Picture of a tree at the Portland Japanese gardens

A brief break at the Portland Japanese gardens helped to rejuvenate my brain between panels

If you are interested in learning more about content strategy or the conference, the slides for all the panels have been posted on SlideShare. Links to the PowerPoints can be found here.



Words I’m Loving: Under the Skin

I’m starting to realize that some people write in their books. It’s difficult for me to comprehend: I’ve always left the pages of my books pristine, other than the occasional food stain. I’m not sure why I never wrote in books. Perhaps it’s because I used to always get my books out from the library. Perhaps I was always so engrossed in books I never thought of writing in them. Perhaps it’s my hatred of highlighting. But I think it is important to keep track of the parts of the book that you love, so perhaps I’ll do that today and share it with you.

I just finished Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Here is one of my favorite passages in this book (it is spoiler heavy):

He smoothed the soil and picked fragments of scattered straw out of it. Then he gathered a handful of long straws together, twisted and folded them to make a stiff wand, and began to draw in the dirt.

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

I can’t imagine what a culture that doesn’t have the word for mercy would be like. Can you?

On Reading for Pleasure

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an Indigo to browse and peruse books to see what captured my fancy. Yet, each book that I came across filled me with dread. Admittedly, I was also in the Indigo to find a self-help book (Getting Things Done), so perhaps I didn’t have the noblest intentions. I’m not sure if chain bookstores are designed to foster the love of books more than the love of random merchandise and pretty covers.

I think there comes a time in every writer/serious reader’s life where she feels she must read something (because it’s a classic or everyone they know loves it) and she can’t. I’ve worked through that feeling. I felt that when I read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and Moby Dick. Why do I feel like I need to push myself through reading books that I don’t avidly enjoy? Is it for bragging rights? Some obscure reading list posted on Facebook that includes five books by Jane Austen and no books by Robert Louis Stevenson?

Sometimes I push myself through a difficult book and find myself falling in love. I experienced this with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. The beginning for me was slow and unengaging, but I persevered and I came to a spot where everything Kay built up, he destroyed. The tragedy was glorious. After that, I couldn’t stop reading. That experience is a rare exception.

I listened to an interview with Nick Hornby (who, by the way, sounds exactly like Alan Rickman) where he said, “If you aren’t enjoying the book, put it down.” Some part of me thinks that’s a betrayal. A betrayal of myself and of the author. For example, I love Guy Vandaerhaeghe, but that doesn’t mean I need for force myself to read through The Englishman’s Boy. Why not re-read Man Descending, or skip on to The Last Crossing? Perhaps if I try to read a book for over a year, and cannot finish it, it is time to let that book go. Let that book find a home with someone who will appreciate it. Sometimes a book isn’t right for you at the current time and place in your life.

Reading can better your mind, your writing skills, and your ability to empathize with others, but first and foremost reading should be done to immerse your mind in a new world, a new way of thinking, and a story. Reading should be a fun compulsion, not something to add to the “to-do list”.

I found an interesting Youtube video on getting through a reading slump, and I think that it helped me get through mine. For the remainder of the year, I will read only for pleasure.

My Experience at Ladies Learning Code

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Description unavailable (Photo credit: JonLimCA)

I recently received the opportunity to attend the first Calgary event of Ladies Learning Code. I heard about the company around a year ago, and could barely believe it when I found out that they were finally coming to Calgary. I’ve learned code in various environments since I was a teen and I was a visible minority in all of them. On a rare occasions I even dealt with some sexist or, at the very least, patronizing behavior. I yearned for the opportunity to learn about technology in an environment that encouraged asking questions and that answered those questions without condescension. I would love a community of female programmers to form within Calgary, and I think that Ladies Learning Code is a great way to create that community. The class offered was an intro to HTML and CSS. Even though I already had HTML experience, I didn’t have a grasp of CSS yet and I also thought the event would be a great networking opportunity, so of course I signed up.

Before the Event

We received an email about what files and programs we needed to download and what we needed to bring a few days before the event. They suggested that we use a text editor called Sublime. Prior to this course, if I used a text editor at all I used notepad, which admittedly isn’t the best for programming. My older OS system on my Mac laptop didn’t support Sublime, so I emailed the team back to see what other suggestions they had. They immediately suggested that I use Text Wrangler. So far, so good.


I arrived at the Assembly Coworking Space in Kensington around twenty minutes before the event began, and the room already felt cozy and packed with people. I immediately noticed that there were men as well as women in the room, but after a few moments I realized that fostering an inclusive environment meant including everyone. I placed my laptop at one of the few free tables and another girl seated at that table greeted me. She let me know that she would be a mentor who would help me if I could have any questions. Apparently every table had a mentor to help us through the lessons. I set up my laptop, got some of the coffee provided, and chatted while waiting for the class to begin.

The Learning Environment

A woman with flowing wavy hair appeared at the front of the room. She introduced herself as Christina Truong and the learning commenced. We opened the files we downloaded previously so we could follow the slides on our computers while also viewing them on the Powerpoint at the front of the room. Whenever I learn anything, I need to force myself to pay attention at the beginning when the easier concepts are introduced so that I’m not completely lost when we reach the more interesting and complex concepts, and this was no different. Even though I did find myself a bit bored at first, since I already knew some HTML, the quick pace of class drew me in. What I loved the most about the class is how, after Christina introduced a difficult concept or discussed multiple steps, everyone erupted into chatter with their mentors to catch up. One of the goals of Ladies Learning Code is to create a social, collaborative environment, and I think that they succeeded in their goal.

Final Thoughts

We ended the day with a mini webpage created in a similar format to this WordPress page using our own CSS and HTML. Admittedly it didn’t look too pretty yet, but I felt stunned at the amount we were able to accomplish in a single day. I also loved how they taught the class, since it catered to both advanced and beginners with its mentoring aspect. The advanced people could follow along with Christina’s quick pace while the beginners could catch up using the mentors at their table. I also found our instructor inspiring, since she let us know she started out with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications and Psychology and then branched into web design. I guess not everyone needs a degree in Computer Science in order to become a developer. I can’t wait to attend more Ladies Learning Code events and I hope that future ones include lessons on PHP and Javascript. I think that Ladies Learning Code is a perfect compliment to other coding resources that I use, such as Codeacademy.

Have you attended any Ladies Learning Code events? What are your thoughts on them? Let me know in the comments!

Google Reader Shut Down

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Whenever I find a new blog that I like, the first thing I do is open up my Google Reader and add it to my RSS (rich site summary) feeds. I honestly don’t even know how RSS feeds work and Google Reader allowed me to live in blissful ignorance while getting my information fix.

Today I got the message that Google is going to end this service as of July 1st, 2013. Apparently, Google is looking to simplify their services, and chose to end Google Reader due to lack of use and their need to create fewer projects. Google, the company that is known for allowing its employees to work on their own projects in the free time, is creating fewer projects.


I searched the web to find an alternative and the list is getting longer and longer. So far the ones that I’ve noticed are:

These are the ones that I found that didn’t instantly bring me to an App of some sort. I’m not sure about the conversion of Apps to the PC or Mac, so I’m not going to look into them for now. Gizmodo also did a great article on the different alternatives. I’m sure that there are many more alternatives, and I’m going to have to research this further to find one to replace my beautiful Google Reader.

But seriously, Google? Why not get rid of Google +? Just sayin’.