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(MAYBE WE) LOOK DIFFERENT

Take some time to surf the Net across countries. Look at some European Union
sites. Then look at some Asian sites (India, China, Japan). When we ask people to
do this exercise, they often identify sites that don’t fit their expectations and
say, “Oh, those places… they are just behind in the adoption of Web technologies,
so their Web site designs are still messy and cluttered. In a few years, they will
look more like ours.” It may be so — presently — that their sites will begin to
look more like ours. Or, maybe ours will begin to look more like theirs. But it’s
not clear that the reason theirs look different now is that they are lagging behind.
There are great designers all over. They may be designing to the beat of a different
drum.

Consider this study: Masuda and Nisbett (2001) present evidence that when asked to
describe the same picture, Japanese participants reported 60% more information about
the background than Americans did. Further, Japanese participants observed background
changes more accurately than Americans. In contrast, Americans reported more details
about the image’s central object. Americans were also better at recognizing the same
object against a new background.

Nisbett and colleagues chalk this up to different cognitive processing style.
Americans (and Westerners) they say are more analytic. They pay more attention to
the focal object. They analyze its attributes and strive to assign the central object
to a specific category. In contrast, East Asians tend to pay more attention to the
broader context. They focus less on the specific objects and more on the relationships
between them. East Asians take a more holistic approach.

This is an intriguing difference. But how do we apply it to Web design? Effective
designers guide their users’ attention using visuals. To create effective, persuasive
interactions, designers need to know what draws attention and where viewers’ eyes
linger.

The two groups in Masuda and Nisbett’s research saw the same picture. But they
reported different things. What happened? Did the participants look at the same
parts of the same picture and just remember different things? Or do they actually
see the picture differently — looking at and lingering on different elements?

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The twilight of print

By Gerry McGovern

When the tool changes, so too should the skill and the
technique. More and more, hypertext is replacing text and the Web is
replacing print.

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing The Times in five years,
and you know what? I don’t care either,” Arthur Sulzberger, owner,
chairman and publisher of The New York Times told Haaretz.com in
February 2007.

According to Sulzberger, The New York Times is on a journey, a journey
that will end on the day The Times prints its last newspaper. Radical
times; a momentous shift is underway.

We who are involved with content are on an exciting journey. At a
certain point, the economics and ease-of-use of the Web will become so
compelling that print will simply not be able to compete.
At this historic juncture, we need to carefully evaluate where we
stand. We need to understand what skills are specifically
print-related. We need to isolate print-thinking, so that a strength in
a previous era does not become a weakness in a new one.

What is print-thinking? Print lends itself to length and to economies
of scale. It’s not that much more expensive to print a 120-page report
than a 100-page one. It’s often not much cheaper to print one copy than
to print 1,000. These economies of print influence how we write in
subtle and various ways.

Is the concept of the annual report a print-specific idea? Why do we
need an annual report when we can get an instant update by visiting the
website of the organization? Often, the content of an annual report is
assembled months before it is published. It can be out-of-date and
irrelevant long before the ink dries.

When an organization prints customer-related content, that content is
nearly always to be consumed outside the organization. Thus, it is
written in a very particular way, with lots of context, and with many
sentences beginning with the name of the organization. It is designed
to go out.

The content on an organization’s website is designed to stay in. The
website itself is the context, and the very fact that the customer has
visited the website implies that they have a certain awareness of the
organization. This crucial difference can change the whole dynamic of
how you write web content.

Print content is often leisurely and flowery. Web content is lean and
pared to the bone. Often, the best web content is not a sentence at
all, but rather a descriptive link.

Linking is the essence of web content, and a good web writer thinks in
webs of links, rather than in series of pages. This is perhaps the
greatest challenge for someone trained in print-to break that linear
mode of thinking and think linking.

Search dominates much of the Web. Search reflects a shift in the
control of the words used away from the organization and towards the
customer. Search is customer language-simple, short, common, clear and
basic words. Not complicated, jargon-filled, marketing-fluff ones.

This is a tremendously exciting time. Make sure you don’t confuse the
tool and the technique. Some say: “But this is simply good writing.”
No. It is good print writing. Learn to embrace the new skills of web
writing, and to lose the old and increasingly archaic skills of print.

Gerry McGovern

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Notes

Google Reader: Tips for Publishers

Feed “best practices”

Having engaging, useful content is the surest way to drive
subscriptions to your feed and page views to the site proper. However,
producing a high-quality feed will influence how much time users will
be willing to spend on assessing your content. Therefore, we recommend
paying attention to the following:

  • Write engaging and descriptive headlines. Many feed readers
    only display the titles of articles, so the title ultimately determines
    whether a user will read your content. “10 tasty recipes for
    Thanksgiving” has more appeal than “Yummy yummy”.
  • Include pictures. Feed readers ignore most of the
    formatting from the original site, so images are an important way to
    make your content stand out.
  • Don’t overload your users. Most users will not want
    more than a few high volume feeds such as Digg or the New York Times.
    For most publishers, aiming for 1-10 articles a day will make your feed
    more manageable. If your site publishes more content than this,
    consider providing a feed of top entries, or multiple subfeeds
    pertaining to specific topics.
  • There’s a steady debate on the issue of full-content feeds vs. partial-content feeds.
    While there are good reasons to choose either option, the user
    experience is better with full-content feeds, as the user no longer
    needs to click through to read an article. Be aware that some users
    choose not to subscribe to partial-content feeds because of the extra
    effort involved in reading them.

Implementing feeds

It is equally important to pay attention to the technical implementation of your feeds.

  • Google Reader supports all versions of RSS and Atom. We recommend using either Atom 1.0 or RSS 2.0,
    preferably not both. Offering multiple formats can confuse users and
    has little benefit since most feed readers support all major formats.
  • If a feed is incorrectly formatted or does not obey
    standards, it can result in duplicate entries and render poorly. To
    avoid this, validate your feeds using the feed validator. It is also a good idea to test your feed in major feed readers to make sure it behaves appropriately.
  • Pay attention to character encodings and escaping. Follow the
    specs and test in a feed reader to ensure that tricky characters like
    & and < display correctly.
  • We recommend the use of the Atom and RSS 2.0
    elements to unambiguously identify items. An item that is updated
    should keep its original ID, and a new item should never reuse the id
    of an older item. Changing ids unnecessarily may result in duplicate
    items, and reusing ids may cause some items to be hidden. “Tag URIs” make good ids, since they don’t change even when you need to reorganize your links.
  • For more information about our crawler, please consult the FeedFetcher FAQ.

Using feed “auto-discovery”

Most modern browsers provide built-in functionality that makes it easy
to subscribe to feeds. For this to work, your site needs to notify the
browser of the location of your feed(s) through appropriate tags.
Auto-discovery tags are also used in search engines like Google
Reader’s “Add Subscription” search. Find out more about feed auto-discovery tags.

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Learn

Does Your Copy Hold Up To A Quick Glance?

By Jessica Neuman Beck

 Quick—what does your site’s copy say about you?

Make
sure your graphics are proportionate to the rest of the body text. Huge
images that take up most of the screen not only convey very little
about the subject, they also keep readers from your content.
Don’t assume that everyone will scroll below the fold.

Take a look at your stats, and you’ll see that a surprising
number of the visits to your site last less than a minute. Sure, some
of those may be bots or search engines, but real visitors are making
decisions about your site in the time it takes to blink. A Canadian
study published in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology suggests that viewers form an opinion of your website in about a twentieth of a second. The viewers who spend a little longer checking out a page still tend to make quick work of it. The average visitor scans a web page rather than reading it. If words don’t reach out and grab your visitors, your killer verbiage doesn’t mean squat.

So how do you turn scanners into readers?

For the purposes of web design, think of your writing as a series of
visual cues designed to turn scanners into readers. As a dedicated
scanner myself, I can attest to the effectiveness of these
methods—some of them I even found myself using whilst searching
for information for this article.

Break It Up

The first rule of design is the judicious use of white space (also sometimes referred to as negative space),
and nowhere is this more important than on the web. My typography
instructor used to tell us to look at our projects from across the room
to see the way the text worked with the white space. You might not be
able to do that with your web site, but you can make sure you
aren’t overwhelming your viewers with too much text.

Give your words some breathing room by increasing your margins, and
choose short, concise chunks of information over long, solid blocks of
text. At a glance, short paragraphs seem more accessible than longer
ones. Visitors are intimidated by lengthy paragraphs. Tolstoy may have
been able to get away with paragraphs spanning entire pages, but
Tolstoy wasn’t writing for the web. Also, you are not Tolstoy.

White space has another use—it facilitates the organization of
your article into sections, which (by a happy coincidence) is the next
point.

A Place For Everything and Everything in Its Place

Paragraph breaks are great, but organizing information into sections
is even better. Assign headlines to each chunk of related copy.
Headlines are the page scanner’s best friend; they make it easy
to decide which sections to read and which can be skipped. Luanne Seymour from Adobe describes the average site scanner’s methodology in this way:

  1. Scan the headlines to see what the content is about.
  2. Look at the pictures to see what the content is about.
  3. If the pictures are compelling, read the captions.
  4. If the headlines, pictures, and captions are compelling, read the rest of the copy—if I have time.

Keeping your information organized will provide the most bang for your
viewer’s metaphorical buck. You never know who will be coming to
your site from a search engine. If a viewer sees something she find
interesting or relevant, it doesn’t mean that she will search the
rest of your article for stray tidbits.

Worth a Thousand Words (So Make Sure You’re Not Speaking Gibberish)

Break up your pages and give readers a visual cue as to what they
can expect by using images and illustrations—but use them wisely.

Make sure your graphics are proportionate to
the rest of the body text. Huge images that take up most of the screen
not only convey very little about the subject, they also keep readers
from your content. Don’t assume that everyone will scroll below
the fold.

Keep it relevant. An image is like a headline; choose images that speak
clearly to your point. An obscure or meaningless image is just filler.
Worse, it breaks up the rhythm of your words without adding anything of
value to the page. You don’t want your viewers to spend valuable
time puzzling over your image choice when they could be scanning your
text.

Remember the white space. Style your images so that they have enough
space surrounding them to flow seamlessly with the rest of the
paragraph. An attractively styled image won’t slow the eye in its
journey across your page.

It’s All About the Flow

What’s all this talk about rhythm and flow?

The way people view web pages has a definite pattern to it. Nielsen Norman Group’s study on the way people view web pages
showed a distinct tendency toward F-shaped eye tracking patterns. That
means that the top, left, and middle of your article gets the most
play, and the rest of it needs to work if it’s going to be
noticed.

Feel the Heat(maps)

Why an F-shaped pattern? Blame the internet. Historically, web site
designers have placed primary navigation in the header, secondary
navigation in the left sidebar, and content in the center. Sound
familiar?

There’s a lot of chicken-or-egg conjecture as to whether the
F-shape is intrinsic to the way people view information on the
internet, or if it is simply a product of years of exposure to
similar-looking web sites. Studies on newspaper eye tracking, for
example, found that readers tend to read in more of a zig-zag pattern. Shouldn’t that mean that we can design sites however we want?

Short answer: No. Web site viewers are accustomed to finding navigation
links at the top, left, or right side of the screen. Do it much
differently and your links might be overlooked. A research study from Eyetools Eyetracking Research
from 2001, in which they inserted gibberish into a dead zone on
E*Trade’s web site, revealed that only one in twenty-five study
participants noticed anything amiss.

Happy Cog Studios
recently redesigned its site, and its unique spin on the F-shape is
just different enough to be interesting. The lesson: Give some thought
to making the F-shape work for you before you mess with the layout of
your site.

Want to keep the eye moving in the right direction? Put your most
important point at the beginning of your article. Follow it with
bite-sized chunks of information that hold up to a quick scan. Keep the
flow by using familiar visual cues (easy-to-recognize links and
navigation elements) and use recognizable icons and styles to draw
attention to easily overlooked areas.

What works?

  • Pull quotes: Just as in print articles, pull quotes
    are a great way to highlight individual lines of text. They provide a
    nice visual alternative to an unbroken expanse of text, and they give
    an air of importance to the writer’s words. Try to choose lines
    that are descriptive but not entirely headline-worthy. A good pull
    quote whets readers’ appetites without making them scratch their
    collective heads and ask, “Huh?”
  • Blurbs: Sure, you know all about headlines, but The Stanford-Poynter Eyetracking Study found that including blurbs below headlines increased the amount of time readers spent on an average page by about 33%.
    Blurbs also encouraged readers to scroll down the page, which increases
    the likelihood that they will be bowled over by your brilliant prose.
    Like a pull quote, a good blurb is descriptive without completely
    robbing the article of all mystery.
  • Icons: Web iconography instantly denotes certain site
    elements. A hard drive with an arrow? Download. Speech bubble?
    Comments. Why not make it easy on your viewers by using a few. Loopnote and Near-Time
    make good use of icons to break up what could have been text-heavy
    pages. As in the case of images, it’s important to appeal to the
    viewer’s sense of familiarity here. A custom set of icons has a
    certain cachet, but if your ideogram is too obscure, it will fail to
    communicate the desired message.
  • Linkage: Viewers are used to identifying a certain
    style (blue, underlined) as a link. Boring, right? It doesn’t
    have to be. Style your links in such a way that they’re obvious
    even to people who aren’t reading your copy by making them
    graphically different from the rest of your text. Use a larger, bolder
    font for your links, as in this example from Tyssen Design,
    or give them a solid background color (different from the main page
    color). If you plan to rely on color to set your links apart, make it
    obvious, as in this example from Superfluous Banter. As an added bonus, use different a:hover and a:visited styles so that your viewers know where they’re going and where they’ve been. Feedburner
    makes good use of this. Keep in mind that links aren’t Easter
    eggs; they should be visible at a glance. Not everyone is going to take
    the time to mouse over your words.
  • Lists: In web copy, lists are like M&M candies:
    tiny, fun, and easy to eat by the handful. Or, wait, lists may not
    taste quite as good. No matter—readers love lists. No pesky body
    copy to wade through: A list is information distilled to its essence.
    They’re perfect for the restless viewer because they require so
    little work.

What doesn’t work?

  • Ads: Viewers tend to skip right over advertising,
    especially if it’s in the traditional right-hand column. Ads that
    use an unobtrusive text link are more effective than a flashing banner.
    If you must have ads on your site, use them creatively and sparingly to
    appeal to the jaded masses. Check out the ads on Fadtastic—they
    blend so seamlessly with the sidebar content that they look almost like
    site links, but they’re styled just differently enough to be
    obvious after a second look.
  • Animation: If it looks too much like an ad, viewers will avoid it. The exception to this rule? User-controlled animation.
    If the viewer can stop and start the animation at will, it becomes an
    interactive element and can actually entice the user to stay on the
    site.
  • Inconsistency: Nothing breaks up the flow like a
    mid-section layout change. People rely on visual cues to tell them how
    to process the information on your site, and changing those cues
    without good reason is confusing at best. You can use this to your
    advantage if, like 37signals, your inconsistent styling is actually sectioning in disguise. In that case, go crazy.

It may only take the blink of an eye for a visitor to decide to hit the
back button and leave your site, but these suggestions could give him a
better reason to stick around. Regular readers will reap the benefits,
too—by turning your site into something easy to process by
scanners, you’ll be making your information even more accessible
to your returning readers by saving them the one thing that’s
really important, time.

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Users Who Know Too Much (And the CIOs Who Fear Them)

A new IT department is being born. You don’t control
it. You may not even be aware of it. But your users are, and figuring
out how to work with it will be the key to your future and your
company’s success.
BY BEN WORTHEN

An April 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project
found that 45 percent of adults who use the Internet said it has
improved their ability to do their jobs “a lot.”

These are your employees, and their message couldn’t be
clearer: Technology, at least in their eyes, has made them
significantly more productive. But CIOs shouldn’t be patting
themselves on the back just yet. For this productivity boost the study
credits the Internet, not enterprise IT, not the technology
you provide, not, in short, you. And while Pew’s finding
undoubtedly includes people who use the Internet to access your
corporate applications, Lee Rainie, the Pew project director, says the
research is not pointing to what a good job CIOs have been doing.

It tells a different tale.

“The big story is that the boundary that existed in
people’s lives between the workplace and the home has broken
down,” says Rainie. Almost unlimited storage and fast new
communication tools allow people to use whatever information they
choose, whenever they want to, from wherever is most convenient for
them.

According to Pew, 42 percent of Internet users download programs,
37 percent use instant messaging, 27 percent have used the Internet to
share files, and 25 percent access the Internet through a wireless
device. (And these numbers are all one or two years old. Rainie
“would bet the ranch” that the current numbers are higher.)

Does that sound like the tools you’ve provided your
company’s employees? Do you encourage them to download programs
and share files? Do you support IM? Have you outfitted a quarter of
your company’s employees with wireless devices?

Really?

“A consequence of the blending of worlds is that people bring
gadgets from their home life into the workplace and vice versa,”
says Rainie. For example, a December 2006 survey by Searchsecurity.com
found that only 29 percent of companies had a corporate instant
messaging tool, a number that seems relatively small when compared with
the percentage of people Pew says use IM in the office.

Users have a history of providing their own technology, but the
capabilities of today’s consumer IT products and the ease with
which users can find them is unprecedented. Thumb drives, often given
away free at conferences, provide gigabytes of transportable storage.
Google spreadsheets and other online documents let multiple people
collaborate in one file. The Motorola Q, a phone that uses the cell
network as an always-on high-speed Internet connection (and can be
yours for just $125 on eBay) lets users forward their work e-mail to
their phones without ever touching a mail server. And that’s only
three examples. There’s a consumer technology out there for every
task imaginable—and if there isn’t, there’s a tool
that will let someone create it tomorrow.

The era in which IT comes only from your IT department is over.

So where does that leave you?

The Shadow IT Department

The consumer technology universe has evolved to a point where it
is, in essence, a fully functioning, alternative IT department. Today,
in effect, users can choose their technology provider. Your
company’s employees may turn to you first, but an employee
who’s given a tool by the corporate IT department that
doesn’t meets his needs will find one that does on the Internet
or at his neighborhood Best Buy.

The emergence of this second IT department—call it “the
shadow IT department”—is a natural product of the
disconnect that has always existed between those who provide IT and
those who use it.

And that disconnect is fundamental. Users want IT to be responsive
to their individual needs and to make them more productive. CIOs want
IT to be reliable, secure, scalable and compliant with an ever
increasing number of government regulations. Consequently, when
corporate IT designs and provides an IT system, manageability usually
comes first, the user’s experience second. But the shadow IT
department doesn’t give a hoot about manageability and provides its users with ways to end-run corporate IT when the interests of the two groups do not coincide.

“Employees are looking to enhance their
efficiency,” says André Gold, director of information
security at Continental Airlines. “People are saying, ‘I
need this to do my job.’” But for all the reasons listed
above, he says, corporate IT usually ends up saying no to what they
want or, at best, promising to get to it…eventually. In the interim,
users turn to the shadow IT department.

For many good and not-so-good reasons, the CIO’s first
instinct frequently is to fight the shadow IT department whenever and
wherever he detects it. But that approach, according to people who have
thought long and hard about this potential war between IT departments,
is a recipe for stalemate, if not outright defeat for CIOs.

The employees in your company are using consumer IT to work faster,
more efficiently and, in many cases, longer hours. Some are even
finding new and better ways to get work done. CIOs should be applauding
this trend. But when you shut down consumer IT, says William Harmer
III, assistant vice president of architecture and technology of
financial services company Manulife, “You end up as a dissuader
of innovation.”

Yes, the shadow IT department presents corporate IT with security
and compliance challenges. Users could be opening holes in the
corporate firewall (by downloading insecure programs), exposing company
data irresponsibly (by scattering laptops, handhelds, and thumb drives
hither and yon) and handling information in any number of ways that
could violate any number of federal regulations. But CIOs need to deal
with these problems strategically, not draconically.

“There’s a simple golden rule,” says David Smith,
a vice president and research fellow at Gartner. “Never use
security and compliance as an excuse for not doing the right thing.
Never use these as sticks or excuses for controlling things. When you
find that people have broken rules, the best thing to do is try to
figure out why and to learn from it.”

Successful companies will learn how to strike a productive balance
between consumer IT—and the innovative processes for which
employees are using these tools—and the need to protect the
enterprise. This will require CIOs to reexamine the way they relate to
users, and to come to terms with the fact that their IT department will
no longer be the exclusive provider of technology within an
organization. This, says Smith, is the only way to stay relevant and
responsive. CIOs who ignore the benefits of consumer IT, who wage war
against the shadow IT department, will be viewed as obstructionist, not
to mention out of touch. And once that happens, they will be ignored
and any semblance of control will fly out the window.

And that won’t be good for anyone.

How the Shadow IT Department Works

Here’s an all-too-common response to the shadow IT
department, courtesy of Bill Braun, vice president of information
systems for the Texas Credit Union League: “What’s good for
me is that it’s simple to say no [to consumer IT]. There goes
most of the problem. Possibly some of the benefit, but certainly the
problem.”

Passing over the fact that Braun admits that he’s willing to
forgo the potential innovations consumer IT can provide, this approach
also assumes that the shadow IT department has a similar structure to
its corporate counterpart and can be managed in the same way.

It doesn’t and it can’t.

The shadow IT department is an entirely different beast.

Corporate IT is highly structured, with one individual or a small
group controlling the nodes in a network and their relationships to one
another. The shadow IT department, on the other hand, has no central
authority and at best an ill-defined hierarchy; nodes join on their own
and develop their own relationships. Marty Anderson, a professor at the
Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, calls corporate IT
a command architecture and shadow IT an emergent architecture. Command
architectures are set up to make them easy to manage and, as a result,
they respond to top-down orders. Emergent architectures contain no
dominant node and therefore provide no lever by which to manage them.
That’s why it is impossible to kill the shadow IT department or
keep it out of your company. It has no head to cut off or single
channel to dam.

It’s natural for corporate IT to feel threatened by the
shadow IT department, but the truth is that they already coexist
everywhere. “The two have always been present,” says
Anderson. “The management skill is noticing where they intersect
and coming up with a strategy for dealing with it.”

For example, a similar dynamic has long played out in HR. A
company’s employees have titles and reporting relationships that
give their work a formal structure. But at the same time every company
has an informal structure determined by expertise, interpersonal
relationships, work ethic, overall effectiveness and so on. Companies
suffer when HR is out of phase with the informal structure. Employees
are demoralized when the formal architecture elevates someone at the
bottom of the informal architecture, and people who occupy the top
spots in the informal architecture leave when they aren’t
recognized by the formal one. Good HR departments know where employees
stand in both the formal and informal architectures and balance the
two.

IT needs to learn how to strike a similar balance.
Corporate IT isn’t going to go away, and neither are the systems
that IT has put in place over the years. But a CIO who doesn’t
develop a strategy to accommodate the shadow IT department will be
employing an outdated and (more important) an inefficient business
model. And, like the HR department that ignores the informal
relationships in a company, the CIO might lose sight of how his users
actually work. Corporate IT thereby loses its authority and,
eventually, the CIO loses his job. It won’t happen quickly, but
it will happen. As Anderson puts it, “It will be like getting
nibbled to death by ducks.”

How to Make Peace With Shadow IT

Techniques will differ for each company depending upon its
business, the degree of regulation to which it’s subject, its
risk tolerance and so on, but some principles are universally
applicable. Here are some starting points.

1. Find out how people really work.

Whether you know it or not, your company’s employees are
using technology of their choosing, or using technology of your
choosing in ways you never intended. Brian Flynn, senior VP of IT at
BCD Travel, found this out when he deployed software that monitored the
content moving across his network. Not only were employees using
consumer IT tools (like IM) but they were using IT-provided
applications to do things that were clearly security risks (such as
sending sensitive information back and forth).

“I am convinced that most companies are flying blind,”
says Flynn. “This is going on everywhere and IT just
doesn’t know.”

Fight your instinct to discourage these behaviors by legislating
against them. Yes, there may be security and compliance risks, but
declaring open war on the shadow IT department will only turn it into
an insurgency, driving it underground where it will be harder to
monitor and harder to negotiate with. Instead, consider this an
opportunity to find out where the IT you’ve provided is out of
sync with your users’ needs.

2. Say yes to evolution.

CIOs need to make users feel comfortable about bringing their
underground behavior into the light. The first step is a change in
attitude.

“We tend to think of people who think out of the box as
troublemakers,” says Flynn. “But we need to realize that
maybe they know what they’re talking about and maybe we should
try to meet them halfway if we can.”

Always try to help users figure out a safe and secure way to do
whatever it is they’re trying to do. “People get used to
[IT] telling them no, and after a while they stop telling you what
they’re doing,” says Continental’s Gold. “So we
try to say yes, dot dot dot.”

Rob Israel, CIO of the John C. Lincoln Health Network, has developed a policy that formalizes this mind-set.

“I’m the only person in IT allowed to say no,” he
says. Conversely, his IT employees have only three options: approve a
request, research it or pass it up to him. According to Gold and
Israel, getting a reputation for saying yes will encourage users to
come to you with ideas. That gives you the chance to learn what it is
that the user is really trying to do and come up with a way to do it
that won’t compromise security.

As irrelevant or irresponsible as some shadow IT projects seem on
the surface, it’s important to accept the fact that users do
things for reasons. If they are e-mailing critical files among
themselves, it’s because they need to work on something from a
different location and that’s the most direct solution that they
can come up with. IT’s job shouldn’t be figuring out how to
prevent the user from accessing and moving files, but rather to find a
solution that lets him take that file home in a way that doesn’t
make the company vulnerable and isn’t any more complex than the
method that the user discovered on his own.

That last part is important. “No one,” says Flynn,
“will jump through hoops.” They’ll go around them.

Gold says that most shadow IT projects are attempts to solve simple
problems, and it’s easy for CIOs to mitigate the risks if
they’re willing. For example, Gold found that people were taking
files home on thumb drives. Instead of trying to outlaw the practice,
he began distributing thumb drives with encryption software on them.
The users’ experience never changed. “It was common sense
to keep both security and how people work in mind,” he says.

3. Ask yourself if the threat is real.

The other part of developing a say-yes reputation is realizing
which shadow IT projects really represent a security threat and which
just threaten IT’s position as the sole god of technology
provisioning. Maria Anzilotti, CIO of Camden Property Trust, a real
estate developer, says that she has continued to allow IM even though
most people use it for nonwork purposes. “We looked at the risk
and decided it wasn’t worth [shutting it down],” she says.
“A lot of people use it to communicate with their kids.
It’s faster and less disruptive than phone calls.

“We keep an eye on it.”

Killing a shadow IT app without appreciating how thoroughly
it’s been integrated into a company’s workflow can have
unanticipated and unfortunate consequences. When Gold shut down IM at
Continental, he got an angry call from an employee in the fuel
management group who was using it (successfully) to negotiate jet fuel
pricing for the airline.

Oops.

When a CIO prohibits people from using a technology
that doesn’t pose a real security threat or doesn’t
adversely affect his budget, he is setting himself up as a tin idol, a
moral arbiter. That’s a guaranteed way to antagonize users. And
that’s never a good idea.

4. Enforce rules, don’t make them.

There’s a fine line between providing access to data and determining who should have access to it. And Manulife’s Harmer says IT often crosses it.

“I own the infrastructure,” he says, “but the
business owns the data.” IT creates artificial hurdles for
employees when it makes blanket judgments about access that affect the
entire company. “The key is not to paint all the users the
same,” says Harmer.

Lincoln Health’s Israel deals with this challenge every day.
It’s one thing, he says, for his nursing staff to search the
Internet for the word breast; it’s another for someone
in the accounting department. But if Israel installed a filter that
prevented access to (apparently) pornographic websites, his nurses
might not be able to find information that they need to treat a
patient. The solution is for IT to provide tools that let an
individual’s manager decide what information she needs to do the
job.

“IT doesn’t know everything the business knows,”
says Gold. “So it’s hard for me to make rules about who
should have access to what.”

5. Be invisible.

Most companies have long lists of policies and regulations with
which everyone must comply. But lists don’t enforce themselves.

“I wrote all the policies [here], and I only know two of them
well,” says Israel. “So it’s unreasonable for an IT
department to expect users to know them all. But we can put systems in
place that put some automation behind our policies.”

Manulife’s Harmer says that the key is to develop an approach
that secures data without depending upon how a user accesses it or what
he does with it.

“The way I approach it is to bring the controls closer to the
data,” he says. “That means not relying on a firewall but
trying to figure out what I’m actually trying to protect and then
dealing with it appropriately.”

At Continental, this type of approach has led to a change in the
way the IT department designs systems. “Ninety percent of the
applications we have that involve sensitive data are things we’ve
written,” Gold explains. All that data was protected…as long as
the user accessed it from the application IT built. But when a manager
tried to compare revenue for different cities by copying the data into
Excel (something Gold says happens routinely), the information was
suddenly placed at risk. With this in mind, Gold encouraged the IT
department to build encryption and other safeguards directly into the
applications. That way, when a user pastes the revenue figures into a
spreadsheet, the data, not the sanctity and integrity of the
application (which are irrelevant), will still be protected.

Messy But Fertile Beats Neat But Sterile

IT has a natural tendency to think about technology in a
system-centric way. Systems automate workflow and control access to
information. And for a long time these systems made work and workers
more efficient. “But there has always been a bright line between
IT systems and what people really wanted to do,” says
Babson’s Anderson.

“I used to have users come to me as if I was the almighty IT
god,” says Israel, who recalls those as “the good old
days.” But in that sense, god is dead, and IT’s authority
and sense of purpose can no longer derive from controlling how people
use technology.

“IT can’t insist on doling out IT,” says
Gartner’s Smith. “The demographics of the workforce are
changing. Younger people who are more familiar with technology are
coming in, and they will not sit still while [CIOs] dole out corporate
apps. If you want to retain the best and the brightest, you can’t
lock down your environment.”

Smith advises CIOs to try to stop thinking about technology as
something that must always be enterprise class. There are plenty of
Web-based tools that can meet their users’ needs and not cost the
company a dime. “Be open-minded and bring them in where
appropriate,” he says.

Does that mean that the enterprise is going to become a messier
place? Absolutely. That’s an inevitable consequence of
user-centric IT. But messiness isn’t as bad as stagnation.

“Controlled chaos is always OK,” says
Gold. “If you want to be an innovator and leverage IT to get a
competitive advantage, there has to be some controlled chaos.”

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Every element of copy has just one purpose — to get the first sentence read.

In his seminars, Sugarman would quiz his students on the purpose of various copy elements: the headline, the graphics, the sub-headlines, etc. Why are they important?

“What is the purpose of a headline?” Sugarman would ask.

Every time the student started with some complicated, jargon-filled explanation, he would cut them off.

“The purpose is to get the first sentence read,” he would counter.

“And the purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read,” he continued.

And so on, down a slippery slide that leads to your offer and the sale.

This is an extremely valuable way to go about structuring any writing, and it’s crucial to writing intended to persuade or sell. Many times we find ourselves so eager to arrive at our conclusion that we forget that the essence of making a persuasive point (or causing any action) is how we get there.

Step by step.

Now… how do we get there?

With this simple framework in mind, the stage is set for drilling down deeper into the nitty gritty of the “step by step.” We’re now in a better position to more fully appreciate the specific techniques that apply to all of the various elements of strong copy.

For example, we can now see:

  • why a strong, compelling headline is critical;
  • why immediately focusing on the benefit to the reader is so crucial;
  • why you must make a promise to the reader that you later fulfill; and
  • why you must back up everything you’ve said with very specific proof.

If no one reads, all is lost.

And the key to getting someone to read is one sentence at a time, so compelled by that sentence that they want to read the next. In other words, how you say it is how you get there.

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How to Write Effective Proposals

by Nick Wreden
September 2, 2003

“Send me a proposal.”

Those four words spark hope and dread in everyone who’s in sales.

On the one hand, you’ve made the short list for new revenue. On the
other, a proposal can also consume a tremendous amount of resources
with potentially nothing to show for the effort but a form rejection
letter.

Companies devote tremendous resources toward generating leads, then
fail to invest the time and effort required to close the “last
mile” between prospect and contract. Failure often results from
an inability to deliver an effective proposal.

That’s a shame. Proposals can be your best branding and sales tool.
But too often they are a boilerplate mishmash stitched together seconds
before the FedEx pickup.

Companies make the same mistake in proposals that they make in their
branding campaigns. The issue is not about you and your capabilities;
it’s about a solution for the prospect that reflects an understanding
of its business issues.

Just as important, it’s the start of a relationship and its ultimate
success may well depend on what is said in the proposal. Successful
proposals require both effectively communicating prospect understanding
and following a process that ensures accountability and
performance—well before FedEx is on the doorstep.

The seeds of failure are often planted before the proposal is
generated. Many proposals are written with the attitude and perspective
of a cocky fourth-grader with his hand in the air yelling, “Pick
me! Pick me!”

The proposal focuses on all the glowing reasons why the firm should
be picked—but that’s not what the prospect is looking for.

While companies think proposals are a fast track to selection,
prospects view it as a road to rejection. When prospects review a stack
of proposals, all making indistinguishable and unprovable claims about
“success,” “commitment” and
“satisfaction,” they first look for reasons to disqualify
proposals.

Didn’t follow the RFP (request for proposal) guidelines? Trash. Too long? Life’s too short. Full of boilerplate? Next!

To avoid being sidelined, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes as
soon as work starts on the proposal. Essentially, all successful
proposals fall into two camps. Either they create an opportunity or
they solve a problem more easily or cheaply than prospects could
themselves.

The entire proposal should be conceived, written and presented as if
a member of the prospect’s staff were making a case to senior
management. This eliminates the most common amateur
mistake—beginning a proposal with a recap of personal/corporate
capabilities or history.( An easy test: Compare the number of times
“we” and “you” are used. If “we”
outnumbers “you,” be sure to make a plea for recycling in
the cover letter.)

The proposal process often starts with an RFP. Read it carefully,
not once, but twice or even thrice. Then follow its guidance carefully,
down to the font, margin and binding requirements.

Pay particular attention to the order of the requirements. Prospects
use this order to speed development of a matrix that compares offerings
and capabilities side by side.

In fact, a useful tip is to develop a response matrix illustrating
prospect requirements, your own capabilities/solutions, a proposal page
reference and space for a check-off or comments.

If no RFP is available, call for additional information or
requirements. Be wary of prospects who won’t provide such data; it’s
probably a harbinger of a troubled relationship even if the contract is
awarded.

Spend as much time in research, planning and analysis as you do
writing the proposal. Be sure to include a go/no-go decision.
Generating a proposal can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and
sometimes the outcome or prospect is not worth the effort.

The planning should include budgets (proposal development should
never exceed 3% of the potential win), responsibilities and timetables.
Several vendors offer hosted solutions or software that facilitates
information collection, speeds reviews and workflows and tracks
revisions. These “virtual proposal” offerings are best
suited for high-volume proposal generation where the bid is likely to
be won or lost on price.

Despite all the work spent on a proposal, it’s likely that only
three elements will be read initially: cover letter, executive summary
and pricing.

  • Use the cover letter to discuss the relationship and ask for the work.
  • The executive summary is its own art form. It is neither an
    introduction, nor a conclusion, but a precise recap of the proposal,
    including pricing.

  • Be upfront with the pricing, but be sure to spell out what the price delivers.

Sometimes it helps to divide a project into phases, with future payment dependent on previous performance.

Other tips:

  • Write simply: It’s said that one reason Ulysses
    Grant won the U.S. Civil War was because he wrote, rewrote and revised
    his battle instructions until there was no chance they could be
    misunderstood by his field commanders. Write on a 10th-grade level, and
    aim for the same clarity in your proposals. Banish phrases such as
    “uniquely qualified,” which mean little to the prospect.
    Write useful headings and subheads that communicate to those who scan.
    Use pictures and charts to illustrate key points, and push extraneous
    material (i.e., corporate histories) to the appendix.

  • Customize and personalize: Boilerplate sticks
    out like spam. Customization should extend to client references, team
    resumes and even your history. Avoid generalizations such as “our
    team is dedicated to your success.” Better: “You will
    receive a speaking opportunity at trade show XYZ and a minimum 10%
    increase in customer retention.” Provide relevant details:
    “A 50-page instructional manual with an online complement”
    packs more punch than “education and training.”

  • Conduct a post-mortem: Win or lose, find out
    why. Win reviews can help clarify client expectations and propel future
    wins. Loss reviews identify missteps and potentially open the door to a
    future relationship. Be sure to ask specific questions. “Did we
    miss a target market?” is better than “why did we
    lose?”

In the long run, success rates will increase significantly if there
is a process behind proposal generation. Although debate continues
about whether proposals should be generated inside or outside the sales
department, 60% of the responsibilities should center around proposal
development and submission, 20% to a proposal “library” for
research and generation, 10% to pipeline and proposal tracking, and 10%
to analysis, including post-mortems, win rates and proposal development
costs.

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Copywriting Makeover: Know Where Your Customers Are in the Buying Process (Part 2 of 2)

by Karon Thackston
April 27, 2004

In part 1 of this two-part article, I introduced a client of mine (AEwebworks) that suffered from some copywriting traumas.

The basic diagnosis was a lack of synergy within the copy,
ineffective use of testimonials, a lack of focus on the target
customers’ buying process and the inability of the current copy to
support the search engine goals of AEwebworks.

After doing some research, I created a plan of action for writing SEO copy that would impress the engines and AEwebworks’ visitors. (You can view the original copy in PDF format here.)

The Rewrite

After arriving at the revelation that most of those who were
shopping for online dating software were already familiar with the
features (and the associated benefits) of the software, I decided that
focusing on those elements would simply make AEwebworks sound like
every other developer of dating scripts. That would definitely not get
the results I was looking for.

My probing uncovered that almost all dating software customers have
three primary concerns: installation, upgrade policies and support. It
just so happened that AEwebworks had phenomenal offers for each of
these.

The headline was changed from this…

Get into Internet dating business with reliable, effective and profitable online dating software

…to this:

Customizable, Full Featured Dating Software Complete With Free Installation, Lifetime Upgrades & Outstanding Support

The body copy began by making an emotional connection with the
customer. It recognized the frustration the customer faced when trying
to choose between the different dating software programs and dating
scripts.

The copy then continued to connect by stating that AEwebworks
developed its software with the help of clients by listening to their
complaints, needs and wants. It also merged quickly into a section that
offered firm, proven solutions to dating site owners’ most pressing
problems.

As the customers continued to read, they found out about specific
benefits of buying software from AEwebworks as opposed to other
developers. And, of course, scattered throughout the page were links to
the ordering section of the site.

In addition to the emotional connection and the problem-solving
aspects of the copy, it was also search-engine optimized. You’ll notice
the subtle use of keyphrases throughout the copy: enough to promote
good search engine rankings, but not so much that the copy is stiff or
forced.

Every other word is not a keyword. The copy has a natural flow to it, but it is fully optimized to do its job where rankings are concerned.

You can view the current copy here.

The Results

It’s best to let the client handle this part of the article:

I wanted to tell you the good news! It looks like our rankings
are improving. We are back in Google and traffic has doubled. We have
record high sales for the last two weeks… about 70% higher than our
next best-selling two-week period ever!

Overall, running our site got much easier after adding your copy
because people ask fewer questions about where to find information…
they are able to sort it out for themselves from the site copy. We
previously had about 5-10 emails a day on average from prospective
customers; now we get AT LEAST 15 A DAY! WOW!!

They are now back in play on Google and also have exceptional
rankings with other important engines, such as Yahoo!, MSN, and
AltaVista.

Another happy ending!

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Copywriting Makeover: Know Where Your Customers Are in the Buying Process (Part 1 of 2)

by Karon Thackston
April 20, 2004

When you begin to write copy for any product or service, you have to take a few things into consideration.

The first is always your target audience: who you’ll be writing to.
Finding out about the needs and wants of the audience members, their
communication styles, their lifestyles and a multitude of other
elements are musts before writing even one word of copy.

But something that most people neglect to do is to give due
attention to the buying process as a whole and where your target
audience is within the process. Understanding this can often make or
break the success of your copy.

When AEwebworks (an online dating-site software developer)
approached me about rewriting its Web site copy, it became immediately
apparent that the copy could benefit from paying some due diligence to
the buying processes of its customers.

The Problems

My primary concerns with the copywriting on this site included the
lack of synergy within the copy, the use of testimonials, the lack of
focus on the target customer’s buying process and the inability for the
copy to support the search engine goals of AEwebworks. In its present
state, the copy contained few mentions of keyphrases. You can view the old copy in PDF form.

When I first read the copy, it felt as though I was being pitched to
from all sides. The headline spoke to someone thinking of entering the
online-dating-site industry. The body copy did not support that
headline; rather, it spoke to someone who had already made the decision
to launch or improve a dating site.

The use of testimonials at the bottom of the home page posed a challenge for two reasons.

The first was sheer location. The design of the site was such that
it appeared nothing fell “below the fold” (what was first
seen when the home page loaded onto a browser).

The second challenge was that many of the testimonials were from
people asking questions or stating they were considering trying the
dating software—not actual customers attesting to the benefits
they’d personally experienced.

In addition, while the information included in the body copy was
good, the information given on the home page needed to outline why
AEwebworks was better than the competition. In its present state, it
did not. That meant finding those aspects of buying dating software
that were most important to the customer and highlighting them within
the copy.

Furthermore, I needed to focus the homepage copy on only two or
three keyphrases and increase keyword saturation for those phrases.
This also meant creating a copy strategy that would allow me to use the
keyphrases effectively, without making the text sound stiff.

The Solution

As always, I started the project by gaining a good understanding of
who the target customers were and what they wanted—their fears,
their likes, their dislikes, and anything else I could discover. After
a good bit of research, and after reading the completed target audience
analysis from AEwebworks, I felt I had a good understanding of those I
would be writing to.

To combat the lack of synergy within the copy and the lack of focus
on the target customer’s buying process, I created a copywriting plan.
From my research I found that installation, upgrade policies and
support were the three most-common gripes buyers had about dating
software. I decided to make overcoming those obstacles the focal point
of the copy instead of the actual features and benefits.

That may sound like an odd choice, but that’s where recognition of
the buying process comes in. Considering that the majority of visitors
to the site had already made the decision to launch a new site or had
chosen to upgrade an existing site, they were already well versed in
the features of dating-site software and their associated benefits.
Yes… the benefits did need to be mentioned; however, other
issues proved to be more pressing to this particular group of
customers.

The use of testimonials on the home page was easily corrected by
simply deleting the ones that did not directly apply to actual users of
the software. I chose two for use within the copy and suggested that as
AEwebworks gets more testimonials it create an entire page that
visitors can read.

That left me with overcoming the inability of the current copy to
support the search engine goals of the site. I suggested AEwebworks
review its keyword choices to be sure they were targeting the ones most
likely to bring in qualified customers. After a review, the company
provided me with a revised list to choose from.

I selected three keyphrases for each page to allow an adequate level
of both keyword saturation and natural language. For the home page, the
terms “dating software,” “online dating
software,” and “dating script” were used.

After all the hoopla with Google, AEwebworks was in foul shape as
far as search engine rankings were concerned. I had to pay particular
attention to creating copy that impressed the search engines and their site visitors in order to help AEwebworks regain ground with its positioning and sales efforts.

The plan was in place. Now all I had to do was write the copy!

In part two of this series, you’ll get all the details on how I turned “OK” into “Wow!”

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How to Optimize Your Press Releases for Search (and Why You Should)

by B.L. Ochman
June 22, 2004

Learning to write press releases that can be easily found by search
engines can exponentially increase the size of the audience that sees
your release.

After all, don’t we write releases because we want them to be seen by the largest possible audience?

Finding the Right Keywords

When you optimize your press releases for search engines, you need
to find a maximum of three keywords or phrases that people are most
likely to use to find information on the topic. If you don’t use the
keyword term enough times in the release, it will not be found by
search engines. If you use it too many times, the search engines will
regard that as “stuffing,” and you can actually be
penalized—by not being listed.

What’s the right number of times to repeat the keywords? Probably
about 2% of your content should be keywords. So if your press release
is 300 words, six words can be keywords. Therefore, you can repeat your
keyword or phrase up to three times.

Some experts recommend writing the release with two different leads
and sending it out twice, a week apart. You also should post it on your
site’s Press Room, where it can be seen by search engine spiders as
they troll the Web.

So you might send it out on BusinessWire or PRNewswire first, and then send it again, with a new lead, a week later via PR Web.

The major newswires have distribution arrangements that feed
releases into Google News, Yahoo News, Inktomi and many other search
engines’ news areas. PR Web’s basic distribution is free, but the
company claims that with a contribution of $20 or more you will receive
enhanced search engine placement.

Wordtracker

Wordtracker
subscription service (starting at $7 per day) is an extremely useful
tool; it helps you pick the correct keywords and phrases to make sure
that you reach your correct demographic audience.

Target the wrong keywords, and you could end up with great search engine rankings for keywords that nobody is seeking. The Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool is free, but it doesn’t provide all the bells and whistles of Wordtracker, which is also more accurate.

How it works: you type in words and phrases, and Wordtracker shows
you how often they have been entered into the most popular search
engines recently. The software then suggests other words and phrases
that may be more popular than the ones you have thought of using. The
words and phrases that Wordtracker suggests are related to those you
search for but may be more popular terms.

Tips for Creating Search-Engine-Friendly Releases

Here are some tips to help you make your press releases search
engine friendly. They are followed an example of a drab original
release and a search engine optimized version.

  1. Use the most popular keyword phrase in the headline, which carries the most weight with search engines.
  2. Repeat the phrase at least three times in a 300-word
    release—the longest you should make a release that’s
    search-engine optimized .

  3. Send your release out once on PR Newswire or a similar
    service. A second time, a week later, after you rewrite the lead
    paragraph, send out the release on PR Web.

  4. Include a link to your site, but make sure to include the http:// part.
  5. If your release is more than a few paragraphs long, include a
    subhead with a keyword phrase. It makes the release easier to read, and
    search engines give more weight to bolded text.

  6. Resist the tendency to shorten familiar terms. For example, if
    you are writing about Chicago, you might tend to make the second
    mention “the City.” However, people looking in search
    engines will type in “Chicago.” Repeating it as a keyword
    phrase will help your release be found, while “the City”
    won’t.

  7. Post your release on your site, on its own page, in addition
    to sending it out over wire services and other distribution methods.

Example: Original Release

Here’s a shortened version of an 800-word release. The release
actually is enormously interesting and could be quite newsworthy. But
it is guaranteed to be ignored because of its dry, academic style.

UC SAN DIEGO SCIENTISTS DEVELOP NOVEL WAY TO SCREEN MOLECULES USING CONVENTIONAL CDS AND COMPACT DISK PLAYERS

LA JOLLA, Calif., Aug. 18 (AScribe Newswire)—Chemists at
the University of California, San Diego have developed a novel method
of detecting molecules with a conventional compact disk player that
provides scientists with an inexpensive way to screen for molecular
interactions and a potentially cheaper alternative to medical
diagnostic tests.

A paper detailing their development will appear this week in an
advance on-line edition of the journal Organic and Biomolecular
Chemistry (http://xlink.rsc.org/?DOI=b306391G) and in the printed journal’s September 21st issue.

“Our immediate goal is to use this new technology to solve
basic scientific questions in the laboratory,” says Michael
Burkart, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD
and a coauthor of the paper. “But our eventual hope is that there
will be many other applications. Our intention is to make this new
development as widely available as possible and to see where others
take the technology.”

“The CD is by far the most common media format in our
society on which to store and read information,” says La Clair.
“It’s portable, you can drop it on the floor and it doesn’t
break. It’s easy to mass produce. And it’s inexpensive.”

Their technique takes advantage of the tendency for anything
adhering to the CD surface to interfere with a laser’s ability to read
digital data burned onto the CD.

“We developed a method to identify biological interactions
using traditional compact disk technology,” explains La Clair,
who provided the patent rights to the method to UCSD. “Using
inkjet printing to attach molecules to the surface of a CD, we
identified proteins adhering to these molecules by their interaction
with the laser light when read by a CD player….”

And Now: The Rewrite

Here is how I changed the release to give it a better chance of getting higher search engine placement. Keywords are underlined:

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA MEDICAL RESEARCHERS FIND NOVEL WAY TO DEVELOP CHEAPER MEDICAL BIOINFORMATICS SCREENING

WHAT: Move over 50 Cent. Ordinary CDs and compact disc players may soon be used by University of California medical research biotechnologists
to detect molecules that provide scientists with an inexpensive and
potentially cheaper diagnostic alternative to expensive medical bioinformatics screening.

WHO: University of California medical researchers
in San Diego have developed a novel way to screen for molecular
interactions using nothing more than a conventional compact disc
player—the most ubiquitous laser device on the planet. Compared
to the $100,000 price tag for a fluorescent protein chip reader, a medical bioinformatics screening tool, a CD player costs as little as $25.

WHY: The researchers envision a medical bioinformatics screening breakthrough
that will create many other potential applications for this technology
outside the laboratory, particularly in the development of inexpensive
medical tests, now beyond the means of many people around the world,
especially in developing countries.

HOW: “In theory, anyone who has a computer with a
CD drive could do diagnostic tests involving molecular modeling in
their own home,” says James La Clair, a visiting scholar.

Biotechnology Breakthrough

Here’s how it works: The chemists enhanced the chemical
activity of the plastic on the CD’s readable surface. They then added
specific molecules to the CD’s readable surface and developed a way to
play the enhanced CD that allows the laser to detect a small error in
the digital code. Specific molecules on the CD surface can be used to
tell the researchers what molecules have attached to their target
protein and, thus, whether or not that protein is present in the
sample. This information will simplify the development of new medical bioinformatics screening.

“James has even done this using CDs with music, like
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” says Burkart. “And you can
actually hear the errors. How many people on this planet can actually
hear a molecule attached to another molecule?” asks La Clair.

Compared to the $100,000 price tag for a fluorescent protein
chip reader, he points out, a CD player costs as little as $25, and it
may produce equally valuable bioinformatics screening results. More
information (http://discode.ucsd.edu/).

(end)

Please note: The link provided by the company leads to a Web page
that is dominated by an image and has no text. Images are invisible to
search engines.

The bottom line: you can learn to search engine optimize your press
releases, but your client needs the help of a search engine
optimization specialist to make sure that its Web site is properly
designed for top search-engine ranking.