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15 Things You Don’t Know About Angie Halama

by Julie Vollenweider

It’s no secret that the Brain Traffic team includes top industry authors and speakers. What is less known (until you work with us), is that the Brain Traffic team also includes a crew of incredibly talented folks that make our content strategy world go ’round.

So, I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if more people got to know the spotlight-shy Brain Traffickers? Wouldn’t it be great if we could do it in a way similar to 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me?”

And then I answered myself (like I do) with a great big, “YES THAT WOULD RULE.”

First up is Angie Halama, project manager extraordinaire. Here are 15 things you don’t know about her:

1. The best cake is always chocolate. Always.

2. I’m the only Minnesotan who isn’t sick of winter yet.

3. Back in 2002, I used RoboHelp to re-do all my employer’s help content. Because I was the only one who wanted to.

4. Has anyone else worked on RoboHelp?

5. One of my recent favorites is peppermint tea. Almost as good as caffeine.

Peppermint Tea Box Image

 6. A former coworker once gave me the nickname Tenacious A.

7. Project management has fostered my appreciation of spreadsheets. 

8. I will never choose chopsticks over a fork.

Fork vs Chopstick

9. I came to Brain Traffic more than three years ago as a writer, when there were only four employees total. We now have 19.

10. Trees are one of my all-time favorites.

11. I am very bad at Monopoly.

12. In my former copyediting days, I got to indulge my love of dictionaries.

Dictionary image

13. My earliest workplaces include two libraries and one bookstore.

14. I know a lot of recipes using sauerkraut.

15. One of my first jobs was telemarketing. I did it for a week, made four sales, and set a record. Seriously.

("place setting" image from Flickr user paul goyette (cc: by-nc-sa 2.0))

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic

Content: The LP

by Melissa Rach

Gang of Four's new album cover for "Content"

Oh yeah. Gang of Four recently released an album called “Content.”  We *assume* content strategy inspired the influential 1970s post-punk band to record its first new material in a zillion years. (Way to stay hip, guys! )

It’s obvious how each track is related to content strategy, just by reading the song titles. Below, we’ve listed the actual track titles, followed by what the Brain Traffic team expects from each song. Feel free to add your ideas to our list.

  1. She Said—An ode to a fantastic stakeholder interview.
  2. You Don’t Have To Be Mad—A blistering punk-inspired rant directed at people who leave unnecessarily nasty comments in user-generated content features.   
  3. Who Am I?—A little ditty describing a project with 26 distinct user profiles.
  4. I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face—A haunting ballad that laments, “Why is that creepy photo of the CEO all over the place? I can’t forget his lonely face.”
  5. You’ll Never Pay For The Farm—A song about a content strategist who loves tractor content a little too much (based on a true story).
  6. I Party All The Time—A reggae-inspired crowd-pleaser about social media (a.k.a. “the fun stuff”).
  7. A Fruitfly In The Beehive—A dance number illustrating how even one piece of overlooked, outdated content on an otherwise good website can ruin a user’s experience forevah.
  8. It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good—A remorse-filled dirge describing a project where they forgot content strategy … until it was too late.
  9. Do As I Say—Powerful anthem with the chorus, “These governance tools and guidelines give me permission to boss you. Uh-huh, uh-huh, they so do.”
  10. I Can See From Far Away—A love song dedicated to good IA: “From every page on your site, I can tell where the content I want is gonna be. Tawes.”
  11. CSA (Exclusive Bonus Track)—Content Strategy Awesomeness.  ‘Nuf said.

Now, we’ll have to listen to the album to see if we’re right.  Bet we’re close. 

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

In the Year Two-Thousaaaaand (and 10)

by Julie Vollenweider

Resisting the urge to do a year-end review of all things Brain Traffic is just too great. Facts, figures, and fun. Here’s a look at what happened this year …

Brain Traffic:

  • Posted 411 tweets – our most actively tweeted month was March
  • Wrote 51 blog posts – including this one
  • Completed 36 projects
  • Waved goodbye to Kristina 22 times as she headed out to speaking gigs
  • Enjoyed no less than 12 office cakes – including the one celebrating the 242nd time we fired Meghan

  • Collectively visited 10 different states and 10 different countries for project work and speaking engagements
  • Organized 9 CS Meetups (and when I say “we”, I actually mean Meghan Casey)
  • Hired 7 amazing people to join our team
  • Ordered 5 space heaters to keep us toasty in our sometimes drafty, yet beautifully restored office in the Bank’s building
  • Posed with our 3 favorite office cardboard cut-outs

  • Congratulated 2 staffers on 2 adorable new babies
  • Announced 1 sensational conference that we’re putting on in 2011
  • Survived with only 1 pair of Hulk gloves

Any way we look at it – it’s been a great year. Brain Traffic is taking some time off to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. Our office closes December 24 and will reopen on Monday, January 3. Here’s to a very happy, healthy, and hilarious 2011!

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic

Three Months in Paris

by Erin Anderson

Back in early September, I packed my bags, my laptop, and my passport, and boldly headed for one very long on-site client meeting (where “on-site” = Paris).

During my tenure in the City of Macarons, I’ve seen three seasons and a lot of fascinating things. Things I would never have expected. After all, when you’re working on web content with a multinational corporation in a city like Paris, the Everyday is bound to look a bit different from the way it does back in Minneapolis.

For example:

1.    Instead of crossing the Mississippi to get to the office, I make my way over the Seine, near the area where Paris was born a millennium ago. That’s one thousand. Years. In the past.

2.    If you show up in the office earlier than 9 a.m., people look at you suspiciously. They do the same if you leave before 7 p.m.

3.    Lunches (even in the company cafeteria) are lengthy affairs, and those same looks of suspicion have haunted me on occasions when I’ve needed to just grab a baguette and hunker down at my desk.

4.    Then again, my window offers a view of the Eiffel Tower AND Sacre-Coeur. It’s hard to want to move!

5.    Manners are very important. Greeting each of your coworkers is a morning routine nobody dares miss. This pleasant (though time-consuming) ritual happens over espresso, as there’s not a drop of drip to be found anywhere in the city. Not even at Starbucks.

6.    Conference calls sound more like UN summits, and care is taken to make sure the same time zone doesn’t always get stuck with the 1 a.m. dial-in shift.

7.    In Minneapolis, Mother Nature often dictates a work-from-home day in the form of snow/sleet/ice/floods/high winds. In Paris, it's striking public transportation unions. Hard to say which is more powerful …

8.    “Team-building activity” usually means “fancy dinner and wine.” And, you know, it WORKS.

9.     I once accepted a meeting invitation for a working session on a plane. It was on the way to another meeting in Rome, but it required I take a detour on a train through Zurich to get there. (It was a surprisingly productive meeting.)

10.    When things get really intense at work (and oh yes, they do), I can always escape to the Luxembourg Garden. (Or the Loire Valley … just 2.5 hours away!)



In the end, though, it’s usually nicer to focus on our similarities.


I rest my case.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic

Content strategy with a British accent

by Meghan Casey

Meghan Casey and Jonathan Kahn


After spending some quality time with our pal Jonathan Kahn at Web Content Chicago 2010 in June, we convinced the fellow content strategy evangelist to make a trip to sunny Minneapolis. Jonathan is founder of London-based web design agency Together London, author of the blog Lucid Plot, and an all-around smart cookie. We like him.

Amidst his whirlwind of tourist activities and an intense round of bar trivia (we won third place), Jonathan obligingly sat down with me to talk shop. I can’t wait to revisit the podcast myself: I was too entranced by his charming accent to pay much attention at the time. (Kidding!)

Listen in to hear this brilliant Brit wax poetic on:

  • How he came to the practice of content strategy
  • How to fix a broken web development process
  • Content strategy: A job for one or many?

The best part, though, is where I make him say something Minnesotan. (You won’t be disappointed.)

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You may also download the mp3.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Web Content

Content Battle of the Year

by Clinton Forry

Kristina and Joe with Hulk Hands

It's our very first podcast! Wooo!

Recently, Kristina (our fearless leader) and Joe Pulizzi (author, content marketing evangelist, and self-described “poster boy for content marketing”) met up to discuss some similarities and differences between content marketing and content strategy.

Not only will you be captivated by their insights and insults (ok, no insults), you'll learn how to identify the One Thing that really sets your company apart from the competition. Bonus: find out how content strategists and content marketers can join arm-in-arm to sing "Hands Across America." 

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Download the mp3

About Joe Pulizzi
Joe co-authored "Get Content, Get Customers" with Newt Barrett. He is the CEO of Junta 42, where he maintains his blog of the same name. Joe evangelizes content marketing worldwide and maintains the popular content marketing blog Junta42. Follow Joe on Twitter: @juntajoe

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

Members vs. guests: how to label users on authenticated sites

by Angie King

Recently, Brain Traffic Twitter friend Taj Moore (@tajmo) asked us for some advice about copy for authenticated websites, or websites that require registration in order to log in for firewalled content and/or functions.

Taj wanted to know our thoughts on what to call members vs. non-members, and logged in members vs. non-logged in members.
Taj’s question inspired quite the philosophical discussion around here. And by “philosophical discussion,” I mean: “really long email chain.”
We like Amazon’s approach to labeling members.
In short, we side with Amazon’s way of doing things. But, as it is with anything of value, it was the ride that mattered. Here’s how we came to our conclusion.
Are there terms to diff. bw member logged in and member not logged in? "Guest" not useful bc conflates w/ non-member.
…Or another tack: how about a word for guest/visitor who is not a member?
…b.c. I am leaning toward "logged-in," "logged-out," & "non-member" but thought you might have better insight.
Kristina: Let’s discuss. Who wants to go first?
Katie D.: Just call everyone Earthlings. We’re all just people, after all.
Christine A.: Is he asking about a user-facing label? I’d question whether there is any value in showing those terms to users.
I like Amazon’s approach. They use a cookie to identify users who have accounts, and ask them to log in only when they do something significant like go to their shopping cart. 
Amazon doesn’t tell people they’re logged in, logged out, non-member, etc. They just put the person’s name up there if the cookie is in place, or show a generic login link if it isn’t. They don’t need users to keep track of their own status.
If he’s asking about what the developers/UX people/etc should call it, it doesn’t much matter as long as they’re consistent and the labels identify clearly defined roles.
Elizabeth (her email passing Christine’s on the information superhighway from NYC):
I’d say, the first question is, how are these terms going to be used? Are they internal or user facing?
If they’re meant to be user-facing, they don’t really seem necessary. If the user is logged in to the site, you’d address them by name. If they’re not logged in, you’d probably call them a guest. If they’re a member who isn’t logged in, you can’t really know that. Not sure why it’d be necessary to label each separately, unless he’s talking about terms to be used internally …
Angie K.: Whoa. It’s like Elizabeth and Christine A. had a cross-country mind meld.
Elizabeth:  We’re Vulcans!
Twitter says…
Address logged in members by name. Everyone else, guest. Internally, use whatever labels you like. Just be consistent, please!
Yeah, we heart Amazon. But nobody’s perfect.
When not logged in, Amazon covers all of the bases—member, non-member, logged in, or not logged in. Check it out:
  • Hello—greets the user, whether a member or not.
  • Sign in—invites members to log on.
  • Start here—gives non-members the opportunity to create an account.
When you’re logged in, Amazon greets you by name and gives you the option to log off. Nice.
However, when I used our company’s login to do some office supply shopping the other day, “Not Brain?” had me giggling for hours.

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Posted in Around the Office, Content Strategy, User Experience, Web Writing

What vs. How

by Julie Vollenweider

I’m reading Dov Seidman’s  book about one simple concept: It’s not what you do that sets you apart, but how you do it.


May I present as an example a recent plotline from one of my favorite TV shows, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

    • What the characters like to do is drink wine.

    • How they drink it is out of a Diet Coke can.

Similarly, at Brain Traffic, what we do is … Plan for and create content that’s:
    • Useful

    • Usable

    • Purposeful

    • Profitable

But more importantly, how we do it is with …
    • Teamwork and a values-driven culture

    • Incredibly high standards for good work

    • A clear purpose and laser-focus on content, just the content

These are some of my very favorite things about Brain Traffic. Another favorite thing is that hilarity is actually a company value.  Can you tell?

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Web Content, Web Writing

Brain Traffic’s Summer Vacation, Parts I and II

by Meghan Casey

What We Did on Our Summer Vacation, Part I

It’s not a party until something gets broken.

True story: We ate walking tacos, we drank margaritas and Mexican beer with lime. We swung at piñatas.

And, oh, we broke a window.

Kristina took it well:


What We Did on Our Summer Vacation, Part II

It was the day after a tornado tore up part of our fair city. The sky was dark. The rain was falling. We would not be deterred. We would not.

For to see our name in lights at Midway Stadium, to get down with Mudonna and Super Fan, to leave the Nerd speechless was our mission. Watch out, St. Paul Saints. Here comes Brain Traffic.

The highlights:
Before the rain. And beer.

Bear says "What? What?"

Eye Love Baseball. And beer.


Slumhog Millionaire. That’s her real name.


The Nerd with Angie 2.0 before Elizabeth stole his funny.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic

Kristina finished her book!

by Katie Dohman

Kristina’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, arrived in the Brain Traffic office this week. (Psst: You can buy it here.) Watch the unveiling:  

So, what are we going to do now that Kristina published a book? The same thing we do every day, of course: Try to take over the world! Congratulations, Kristina!

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Uncategorized, Web Content