Clara’s Den, Filey – holiday apartment

I’ve been building websites for a long time. Websites of all shapes and sizes, and sometimes for bricks and mortar businesses. My latest website is for a physical place, but this time – it’s MY place! Clara’s Den, a holiday apartment on an award-winning holiday village just south of Filey on the beautiful Yorkshire coast.

If you’ve not stayed on the Yorkshire coast, sampling the delights of Whitby and Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington, Staithes and Sandsend, then you’re missing out. There are loads of details on the website about what to find in The Bay village, along Filey Bay from the Brigg to Bempton Cliffs, and further afield along the east coast.

If you’re looking for a self-catering holiday apartment in walking distance of the beach then we’d love to welcome you to Clara’s Den.

Book review: Digital Adaptation by Paul Boag

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you and against our fellow men,
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.

It’s no secret to web design and development professionals that many organisations just don’t “get” the web. This shouldn’t be a surprise: I expect that chefs would say that many organisations don’t “get” cuisine, or newspaper editors would say that many organisations don’t “get” the media industry. That’s not necessarily a problem – we can’t expect everyone to know HTML and CSS.

Chefs are expected to know the nuances of many ingredients, but a restaurant manager only needs to know whether customers like the food and are willing to pay for it. Newspaper editors must understand the process of finding, investigating and writing stories, printing and distributing their publications, but a paper shop only needs to know what newspapers they need to stock. In the same way most organisations don’t need to know the technical aspects of building websites, but they do need to know how they can adapt themselves to get the best from the digital world we now inhabit.

At the risk of being accused of hyperbole I’m going to stress that “adapt” is the right word here. It’s about a constant evolution to enable growth and long-term survival.

For many years Paul Boag has been one of the leading voices in the web industry (my cheque is in the post, right, Paul?) through his website and podcast, not to mention the great work he and his colleagues at Headscape have done for a wide range of clients. So it’s great news that those years of insight have been poured into his latest book: Digital Adaptation.

It’s a great read; full of nuggets of wisdom gleaned from countless meetings with organisations of all shapes and sizes. When it comes to clients who want websites, Paul has seen it all. Which brings me onto the quote above. Yes, there is a point to it.

You see, people – and that who we have to deal with; real, human people – are a complicated bunch. We have a huge range of attitudes and thoughts, all shaped by the vast array of experiences we each travel through. We’re not always perfect, and we certainly don’t always make the right decisions. We fail in a number of ways: in thought, in word, in deed.

Sometimes we think something is true when it’s not – for example thinking carousels are a good idea. Sometimes we think something is false when the reality is different.

More often that we care to admit we say things that aren’t right, either. We speak without thinking; we tear down rather than build up.

And, if we’re honest, our actions rarely live up to what our best selves would do. We react badly, act thoughtlessly, ignore opportunities to do good.

And the reasons why are as varied as our failures. We fail through negligence, through weakness, and sometimes through our own deliberate fault.

But I’m not here to be a tree-hugging motivational speaker, I’m reviewing Paul’s book! Which is about … people. People who misunderstand the web, who don’t know what is possible, who sometimes (it has to be said) want their own way or the high way.

Organisations are just groups of people. And whatever the reasons why organisations don’t “get” the web, and irrespective of how those reasons take form, those people can be challenged and educated to start to “get” it. That’s what Paul’s book is about at it’s heart; kick-starting the changes in attitudes that are required for organisations to adapt to the digital landscape.

I’ve already said it’s a great book, but I do have a central problem with it. Paul repeatedly uses the word “digital” as a noun, but most people are used to it being used as an adjective. This might be a barrier to some people. Here’s an example:

Similar trends are occurring in the newspaper industry and among cable TV companies, as digital changes how consumers read the news and watch TV.

Wrapped up in that word “digital” is a whole set of other more definite nouns; the Internet and web, digital downloading, email and SMS, smartphones, tablets and much more. But while we in the digital industry understand that “digital” as a noun encompasses these things, and much more yet to be invented, my hunch is that those outside the industry (shall we call them “Muggles“?) may not get this.

Paul also uses digital in its more traditional form as an adjective; ‘digital team’, ‘digital strategy’ etc. This, I feel, will be more understandable to those we’re trying to educate. But on the whole this is a small nit-pick.

At 176 pages the book is brief enough to read in a couple of sittings, and it feels great. Printed on thick paper, with Veerle Pieters gorgeous illustrations. Even the main title on the front cover has a subtle texture to it. It’s a quality product.

Paul starts with an honest appraisal of the problem we face as digital professionals; that organisations can be ignorant, scared or indifferent to the changing world. His insight into the thought processes of the management in these organisations is enlightening and thought-provoking.

One thing I must particularly highlight is Paul stressing that the management attitudes digital professionals often struggle with may not be all deliberate (remember that “through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault” thing?). This is timely and often needed; understanding and good communication must work both ways.

The bulk of the book consists of practical and well-reasoned arguments why organisations should not just embrace the digital revolution but fully engage with it – to the extent that it informs their entire strategy. This is “digital by default”, a motif which runs throughout the book and the premise of which I fully agree with.

This, however, is my second bug-bear with Digital Adaptation. I know from experience that design teams are sometimes perceived by outsiders as unapproachable, uninterested in the wider aims of the organisation, and unwilling to be pragmatic about design. Of course that is rarely the truth. But we have to face facts: the offices of professionals in most other industries don’t contain beer fridges, games consoles or loud music. Perhaps those things are necessary for a creative environment. I’m no designer, so I can’t really comment.

Digital Adaptation nods towards these attitudes and tries to cut through the frippery to the real heart of the matter; that designers are serious professionals who are crucial to the ongoing success of an organisation in the changing culture we inhabit. The problem for me is that I don’t think enough is said to distance the design industry from the perceptions I’ve encountered in more traditional industries.

There are excellent and strong examples of a modern digital strategy doing wonders for organisations, notably in the discussion of the gov.uk work done by Martha Lane Fox, Mike Bracken and the gov.uk team. And there are plenty of stories from a range of modern businesses – Twitter, Google, Mailchimp and others – to further strengthen Paul’s central message that digital (yes, as a noun) matters.

All in all this is a great book which I believe will further and enhance the conversations happening in boardrooms, design studios and development offices in organisations all over the world.

Welcome to stillbreathing.co.uk 2009

Well, here it is. This new theme for stillbreathing.co.uk has been mainly designed by the great Paul Cook who worked with me for several years in a previous job. I’ve said on a number of occasions he’s the best designer I know, and that’s true. After all, I don’t know any other designers :0)

Anyway, he’s pulled a corker out of the bag with this one. Basically all the bits that look really cool (the very top and very bottom of the page) were done by him, the rest (the rubbish bit in the middle) was done by me. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick Paul’s brains at some point and put some finishing touches to the design.

However, this isn’t just a new design. It’s also the beginnings of a new direction for stillbreathing.co.uk which has been my personal site for *checks archives* ooh, October 2004. Basically I’m keeping this site for more personal things (which of course will include code), but I’ll be creating a Brand New Site for my freelance business.

I’ve mentioned the name of that new site a few times, but as it’s not even nearly ready for previewing I won’t link to it just yet. Still, along with the new PerformerJS.org site I hope to have that finished in the next few weeks.

New BeatsBase mix widget

I’m currently working on a widget for BeatsBase.com, the social networking and mix hosting site I developed for my friend and client Robbie a couple of years ago. The widget will allow you to have a Radio BeatsBase player on your website, just like this:

That one shows the latest mixes added to the site, but if things go according to plan you’ll also be able to have a player with just one users mixes in as well. If you’re into dance, trance, techno and other styles of “young person” music take a look.

Useful neo-marketing websites

I’ve had a few conversations recently about neo-marketing, an emerging way to communicate between businesses and people (or people and people, businesses and businesses, anyone really). I even twisted it to apply to emerging churches.

After one of these conversations I put together a list of useful neo-marketing online resources. Well, strictly they are really resources about a modern approach to business, as well as marketing, customer service and a lot of other things. I’m a generous sort of chap, so here it is.

Signal vs. Noise by 37signals: http://blogcabin.37signals.com/posts/

37signals were a website design and development company which brought out a couple of their own online applications which have caused a storm on the web due to their ease of use and power. In particular their Basecamp project management system (http://basecamphq.com/) has revolutionised the way many which are deeply involved in the web companies work.

They have a knack of writing good medium length articles about all sorts of things. Plenty of example from other businesses about good (and bad) ways to operate:

They also link to some great articles, videos and other resources:

And they also have regular spots highlighting different things:

All these examples are from just the (sometime in June) front page of their blog, and the archives are full of fantastic things.

Creating passionate users by Kathy Sierra: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/

Kathy is a very well respected author and blogger with a huge range of great articles discussing many aspects of marketing, design, development and customer service. Here’s just a handful of the articles from her:

It’s important to note Kathy isn’t blogging any more, however she’s still active as a speaker and author.

Gapingvoid by Hugh Macleod: http://www.gapingvoid.com/

Hugh is a very well known Scottish cartoonish and marketer, with a particular style both of drawing and writing. Over the last year or so he’s been involved deeply in what has become known as the Blue Monster movement – based on this cartoon which he drew:

On the back of that he’s done work with Microsoft trying to break them out of their age-old marketing quagmire. He’s also involved in a wine company and a Savile Row tailors. But the best thing about Hugh is he’s got a fantastic understanding of what’s wrong with traditional PR, and how the tide is turning:

Church of the customer by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba: http://www.churchofthecustomer.com/

This isn’t one I read regularly, but there’s some good stuff on it anyway:

Global neighbourhoods by Shel Israel: http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/ * please see the note below this entry

Shel is an old-school marketer who has really “got” the Internet. Together with Robert Scoble (probably the most famous blogger in the world) he wrote a book called Naked Conversations (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Naked-Conversations-Changing-Businesses-Customers/dp/047174719X) which charts how blogs are changing the face of business. “Global Neighbourhoods” is the name of their follow-up book. If you want some good offline reading you could do a lot worse than buy these.

Shel is fundamentally a business marketer, and he has written some fantastic articles:

Important note: some of the things in this section are factually incorrect. Shel has kindly pointed out the error of my ways in this comment, and for that I thank him. Sorry for not doing my research properly, or indeed paying as much attention as I should!

Shotgun marketing by Chris Houchens: http://shotgunconcepts.blogspot.com/

Chris is a widely known marketing expert with a particular focus on web interactions. Here are some useful recent articles:

Horsepigcow by Tara Hunt: http://www.horsepigcow.com/

Horsepigcow is a blend of observations on online marketing, links to the “happening” things on the web and general observations about web business. Not every article will be of use for businesspeople, but she has written some great stuff:

Extra links:

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds: http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/

Garr is a fantastic presenter, and on his blog he talks about how to make presentations better, and also has lots of example from some of the worlds foremost speakers.

Recommended reading by Hugh Macleod: http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/002039.html

Hugh lists the blogs you should be reading.