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To the CS Community, With Love

by Erin Kissane

Yesterday morning, I helped launch a magazine.

For the last several months, I’ve been working with Krista Stevens (Executive Editor, A List Apart), Ethan Marcotte (author, Responsive Web Design), and Brain Traffic’s own Erik Westra (Director of Media and Events) to build Contents, a new magazine for content strategists, online editors, new-school publishers, and everyone else obsessed with content online.

The village that it takes

Contents isn’t a Brain Traffic project, but at every step of the way, Erik and I have been inspired, grounded, and supported by our friends and colleagues here.

On one side of the building, two-thirds of our leadership team is immersed in the final stages of writing and revising the second edition of Content Strategy for the Web—and another of my colleagues is editing it as they go. Across the office is one of the co-organizers of the Minneapolis-St. Paul CS Meetup. Down a couple of steps toward the kitchen, Erik is laying the groundwork for Confab 2012. And in every room, on every conference call, and in every meeting over bagels and coffee, my colleagues are building the future of content strategy on real-world projects for clients around the globe.

Ultimately, client work is the heart of our company, and in the eleven months since I joined Brain Traffic, I’ve seen a lot of fantastic projects created and launched. It goes without saying (or it should) that our client work benefits tremendously from the shared work of the larger content strategy community, the members of whom are tirelessly creating these events and publications and resources.

For me, at least, it’s impossible to do either client work or community building well without plenty of exposure to the other. And maybe it’s because so many of us started out as writers and really love to blog, but the CS world seems to understand the importance of that symbiotic relationship more than any fledgling discipline I’ve seen before.

What’s coming up at Contents?

In the coming months, we’ll be publishing columns, articles, interviews, conference reports, product reviews, and more. Some will be practical and focused on tools and techniques. More will focus on expanding our understanding of the work we do, and to create connections between fields we still think of as separate worlds, but that have much to share with each other: content strategy, but also digital data preservation, library science, new journalism, communication theory, and many others.

As Mandy Brown put it in her article for our first issue, successful communities require two things: “a place to gather, and things to talk about.” And we clearly have a lot to talk about—have you seen us on Twitter? With @Contents, we hope to provide a place—an equivalent, maybe, to the auditoriums and conference-center hallways where our community comes together in physical space.

In the end, this is about you. Our doors are open and our writers are smart, curious, and excited to share what they’ve learned. We hope you’ll come in, grab a coffee, and join us.

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Posted in Resources

A big ol’ list of content strategy resources for you

by Angie King

You know that saying about the cobbler’s kids having no shoes? Yeah. We’re the cobbler, this blog is our shoes. Sorry for the long absence. There are no excuses. However, we’d like to blame it on spring.

One of the things we’ve been lucky enough to do this spring is speak at various conferences around the country. We’ve talked to a TON of great people—from content strategy newbies to CS experts alike. You guys are awesome. And you’re doing great work. Really great.

Many of you have asked us for our list of go-to content strategy resources. So to thank you all for coming out to see us speak, and to facilitate more awesome content strategy work, we’ve compiled this handy list. Enjoy!





Check out our blog roll for our favorite go-to blogs. (Blog roll, to the right.)

Other Stuff & Junk



From Jakob Nielson’s Useit.com:

What did we miss? Please add your favorite content strategy books, blogs, and links in the comments.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized

Top 10 infographic resources

by Christine Benson

We're infographic junkies here at Brain Traffic, and it's not hard to figure out why: Successful infographics are the marriage of great design and useful information. In other words, infographics are visually appealing content.

Converting your information to an infographic benefits your users by communicating your message in a visually compelling form. Whether they show up in internal deliverables or online, infographics seem to get everyone excited. Whenever I'm ready to create a new graphic, I use these resources for ideas and inspiration.

Great Lists from other sites
1.  Smashing Magazine They've done several infographic round-up posts, but this is the one I keep going back to.
2.  Six Revisions There's a strong consumption theme running through this collection. I've sent the coffee and beer graphics around to family and friends on more than one occasion.
3.  Blog of Francesco Mugnai 50 great infographics. Nothing else. 

 Sites dedicated to Infographics
4.  Flowing Data  Great graphics and advice about how to create them. Props to Nathan Yau .
5.  Chart Porn There's a humor category. (swoon)
6.  Cool Infographics  Lots of resources for creating graphics as well as examples. Check out the tips for designing infographics
7.  We love Datavis The browsing on this one is not my favorite (the thumbnails are tough to decipher without clicking), but the graphics they pick are really strong.
8.  How Toons Cartoons are not infographics in the traditional sense, but these are so entertaining I had to include this example.

 Print Infographics
9.  Feltron Annual Report Nicholas Felton does a report every year. It’s pretty amazing.
10.  Good Magazine You know about Good, right? No? Just go there. Go there NOW. 

 Bonus – Interactive graphics!
I know I've already named 10, but I have to end with my all-time favorite interactive infographic. It's the New York Times Olympic Medal count – there's one for the Summer and Winter. They’re both so amazing, I love to go back to them even when it's not an Olympic year.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content

You’re hired: Outsourcing content work

by Julie Vollenweider

Recently, someone asked if I could help him understand when it makes sense to outsource content work vs. handle it with an internal team.

At first, this question surprised me – it’s not one I hear often. Or ever, for that matter. But it got me thinking that perhaps it is asked (or silently considered) more than I realize.

Before diving into the details – here are some familiar situations that prompt the question: Who is going to do this content work?
•    We have a giant pile of messy content.
•    Nobody really “owns” our content, so everyone avoids it.
•    We have content all over the place, and none of it is consistent when it comes to voice, tone, style or message.
•    Our content isn’t useful, usable, relevant, or accurate.
•    We are thinking about implementing a new content management solution.

OK. Yep. You have content work to be done. Now what? There are two common scenarios when it comes to the content requests we get:
•    We have/are building an internal team that will take care of our content. Can you teach us some best practices and/or help us get started?
•    There’s nobody/no time to take care of our content. Can you do it for us?


A shameless, yet good-humored, plug

Of course, it really wouldn’t hurt to consider hiring a content strategy consultancy (preferably based in Minneapolis) either way – to jumpstart your effort or to just take care of it. Content professionals (like the awesome staff at Brain Traffic) are standing by to help answer questions, develop a plan, increase confidence and dole out general content happiness.

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Posted in Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Resources

Email Etiquette: You are what you send.

by Elizabeth Saloka

Ever send a super clever, funny, smart email, and then re-read it and realize you sound like a jerk? Or bat-dip crazy? Or full of yourself?

It’s not your fault! It’s email’s fault.

 Email is a tricky medium, because:
1. It’s crude.
In person, you convey information through:
1. Words
2. Vocal intonations
3. Facial expressions
4. Body language
5. Visual aids (e.g., PowerPoint slides)
6. Vibes (according to hippies)
Over email you convey info through:
1. Words
Communicating through email is like painting with one big, fat brush. Rendering subtleties—such as sarcasm and self-deprecation—is a tough, messy, and often impossible task.
2. It’s easy.
Sending a birthday card is a full-blown process. You go to the store. Rifle through a bunch of cards. Buy one. Think out what you want to write. Grab a pen. Find a flat surface. Then, finally, put pen to paper.
Email’s free. And easy—just type and hit send. Because it carries no cost and requires little thought, people often don’t put much care into their emails. It shows.
 Writing clear, courteous emails ain’t rocket science. Just stick with these three common sense tips:
1. Keep it simple, silly. The fewer—and less fancy—words you use, the less likely you’ll be to confuse (or, worse, offend) your recipient. Avoid sarcasm, irony, metaphor, obscure references—all the fun stuff that gets you in trouble. Need an example? Okay.
Instead of saying:
“Thad, you broke a leg—and two arms! You’ve got the charisma of a young Ronald Reagan.”
“Thad, you did a really great job.”
See? Not as creative. But less chance of confusing/offending/creeping out the recipient.
2. Listen to your gut.
You know when you read something you’ve just written, and it doesn’t sit quite right? Listen to that feeling. Remember, once you hit “send” you can’t take it back. So what’s the rush? Go grab a pretzel stick from the office kitchen. Take a walk. Whatever. Any excuse to get away from your words for a few minutes.
When you return, you might be surprised by how quickly you pinpoint what’s off. “Gee, maybe I shouldn’t tell the client he reminds me of Larry King … ”
3. Ask, “Why?”
Before sending any email, ask yourself why you’re sending it. Or, better yet, ask what your recipient will get out of it. Will it inform, amuse, or reassure them? If you can’t think of even one little ol’ benefit, you probably don’t need to send it.
Remember, too, email isn’t always the answer. Would your recipient prefer a text message or phone call? Or—gasp!—a face-to-face chat? Why labor over an email to a coworker when you could quick pop over to their desk?
Finally, word to the wise: Sending YouTube videos over five minutes long is just bad form.
Seriously, people. Nothing’s that funny.


So now you know how to stop yourself from writing bad emails. But what if you’ve already sent one? You have two options:

  • Say sorry.

When to say sorry:
Your coworker or boss says in very definite terms, “Wow, you’re a jerk.”


What to say:

“Wow, I’m a real jerk. I meant to be <funny/sarcastic/goofy/whatever> and I totally flubbed up. Please forgive me, yo!”

  • Say nothing.
When to say nothing:
Your aunt or friend seems put off, but doesn’t actually say so.
What to say:
Nothing. Let it blow over. Just make sure you take care with future emails. Chances are, in a few weeks, things will be just fine. What you don’t want to do is cram your foot any deeper into your mouth.
 Feels good, doesn’t it? You want to test your skills right now, don’t you? Well, what are you waiting for? Go!

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Posted in Resources, Web Content, Web Writing

Warning: This is a fake warning!

by Angie Halama

Recently, our IT company sent us an email alert about "scareware" messages, warning that clicking on any of these messages could install some nasty malware on our computers.

Here’s what they look like:


Blog Image 3

"The text reads: Warning!!! Your computer contains various types of adware and viruses.

"Your system requires immediate anti-viruses check! Personal Antivirus will perform a quick and free scanning of your PC for viruses and malicious programs. "

Blog Image 4

"The text reads: Your computer remains infected by threats! They can cause data loss and file damage and need to be cured as soon as possible."

Graphically, these warnings look legit, like they were created with Microsoft or another professional anti-virus company, right?  It’s enough to scare people into clicking immediately.

The Copy Test
Fortunately, there’s a simple trick for detecting scareware: Take a look at that copy.

Do legitimate warnings ever work to inspire this much fear and urgency? Do they scream "emergency" with multiple exclamation points and words like "malicious" and "infected"?      

No. And that’s what gives them away. Legit error and warning messages are rarely this exciting.

While it’s not great writing, the writers of this scareware copy understand their readers and their fear of computer viruses. Many "for real" error and warning messages don’t work because the writer isn’t thinking from the readers’ point of view.

Pop-ups and error messages should be clear and compelling (but not frightening!). Check out these tips for writing some good ones.

The Morals of This Story

    • Think before you click.

    • Don’t run scams. 

    • Be nice to your reader and give them clear, actionable copy. Always.


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Posted in Resources, Web Content, Web Writing

Pumpkins. Apple Pie. Content Tips.

by Julie Vollenweider

On this week’s calendar: the Autumnal Equinox. Or as I like to say, the beginning of the end. Now that it’s fall, my mind drifts to dazzling topics like, raking leaves, saying "sayonara" to the sun, and that hard-coded alarm I still hold on to … first semester. Since nobody wants to read my complaining about Minnesota weather, I’d like to celebrate fall learning with a couple of content tips.

Tip #1: Content is more than copy. Around here, we love words. But what we really love is content — and there’s a difference. When we talk about content, we consider copy, meaningful imagery, metadata, user-generated, error messages, video, audio, graphs, charts, etc. You know who illustrates this concept well? The New York Times. Check out the Multimedia page and you’ll find photos, interactive graphics/features, text, audio, video and a lot of other cool stuff.

Tip #2: Speaking of graphs and charts, consider infographics. Bring together words with visuals. Do it to inform, entertain or inspire. We have a resident infographics junkie on staff. Her name is Christine. And she finds and circulates some goodies. Here’s where we go hunting: GOOD’s FFFFOUND! page incorporates the best of the web and the Transparency archive is a "graphical exploration of the data that surrounds us."  Flowing Data "explores data visualization" in the Infographics Archive.

Tip #3: When I said "a couple" of tips, I really meant it.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Web Content

What is Web 3.0, anyway?

by Angie King

Now that the social media tools that define Web 2.0 have moved into the mainstream—and believe me, it’s mainstream now that our moms are on Facebook—the interactive community has moved on to the next big thing: Web 3.0.

Recently I’ve seen an increase in tweets and blogs about the topic. After trying to follow the conversation, I had to admit to myself I didn’t really know what “web 3.0” meant. So I decided to see what the buzz was all about.

Here’s your crash course in Web 3.0, in case you were wondering, too.

What is Web 3.0?
The first thing you should know is that the definition of Web 3.0 is still a little murky.

Here’s what some people are saying about it:

    • "Web 3.0 is about making the web a more personal web. [It’s] an internet that can anticipate my needs, understand my meaning and even allow me to find information better than ever. " Judy Shapiro, Ad Age

    •  " The core idea behind Web 3.0 is to extract much more meaningful, actionable insight from information. The goal of Web 3.0 is to reorganize information so users can capture what things are and how they are related."  Web 3.0 Conference site

    • "… Web 3.0 is about open and more structured data – which essentially makes the Web more ‘intelligent’. The smarter the data, the more things we can do with it. The current trends we’re seeing today – filtering content, real-time data, personalization – are evidence that ‘Web 3.0′ is upon us, if not yet well defined." Richard MacManus, Read Write Web

Web 3.0 is also sometimes called the semantic web. But sometimes the semantic web is referred to as a component of Web 3.0. Like I said: murky.

Why could  Web 3.0 be awesome?
According to the various definitions out there, we’re on the verge of the BEST INTERWEBS EVER. In a nutshell, it sounds like Web 3.0 aims to be a customized information delivery system that intuitively caters to your every want and need—wherever you are.

Yes, this includes more and better mobile apps. And not just for the iPhone. (Please? Thank you.)

According to the Web 3.0 Conference people, the benefits of Web 3.0 are totally rad:

    • This seemingly simple concept will have a profound effect at every level of information consumption, from the individual end user to the enterprise.

    • Web 3.0 technologies make the organization of information radically more fluid and allow for new types of analysis based on things like text semantics, machine learning, and what we call serendipity — the stumbling upon insights based on just having better organized and connected information.

Why might Web 3.0 Suck?

Besides the inherent fear that a “smart” web is the first step to a Terminator-style robot revolution, some valid concerns have been raised about Web 3.0.

Recently, Advertising Age’s Judy Shapiro wrote a blog to express her concerns. Her post “In Web 3.0 We Trust – or Not” explores the need to integrate the human element of trust into the forthcoming “intelligent” web.

She writes that Web 3.0 risks disaster:

"… because as our dependence on the internet grows, a lack of trust will unravel any or all of the marvelous innovations being conceived now.

What good is more linked data when we have no idea which data to trust? Wouldn’t you rather get a product recommendation from a trusted friend than a "paid" digital butler, ah, I mean agent?"

Besides wondering whether we can trust the content Web 3.0 serves up, we’ll also struggle with issues of privacy. In order to make the data more customized, Web 3.0 gadgets will need to gather more of our personal information. Which begs the questions:

    • What will they do with our personal information?

    •  Will it be protected?

    • How will we know?

Will we like Web 3.0?

I think that depends, on many factors. And of course it will be heavily influenced by personal choice.

Factors to consider:

    • Will the technology deliver what it promises? Gadgets are cool, but only if they work.

    • How will the technology change our lives, in a tangible way? It has to be intuitive and easy-to-use to improve our everyday lives.

    • Can we overcome the feelings of mistrust brought on by an “intelligent” web? We have to be able to trust the content it serves up—and trust that our private information is protected.

    • How does Web 3.0’s focus on technology affect the need for publishing useful, useable content? This last factor is the most important, in my opinion.

Here’s what Rachel Lovinger, Content Strategy Lead at Razorfish, has to say about the influence of Web 3.0 on content:

“The promise is that [Web 3.0 is] going to help make content more readily accessible. So, the call-to-arms for content strategy is a big one. Like my tweet quoting Tom Tague [from his keynote at the Semantic Technology Conference on June 16], there’s a lot of content, not enough information.

Web 3.0 is going to help the good stuff rise to the top, but in order for that to happen, there has to be good stuff.”

Exactly. We need to continue planning for content the same way we’ve always needed to—but with more urgency. But don’t worry. Brain Traffic can help. Just give us a call. (The telephone may be so Web 0.0, but it’ll still work in Web 3.0. Promise.)


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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Information Architecture, Resources, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing

Links We Like

by Katie Dohman

This week, we’re twitterpated over Twitter news—It’s everywhere lately.

The Art of the Tweet.
From Rands in Repose. A good way to look at using Twitter. Are you adding something useful to the conversation?

How Tweet It Is
New York Magazine’s profile about Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Get more information in your inbox about your Twitter followers.
This app will take you from “So-and-so is following you on Twitter” to full-scale information about said follower. Watch the video. It’s only a little longer than a minute.

Celebrities love Twitter, too!
Yes, some of them are for real. Like MC Hammer (lately, that man is everywhere!) and couples such as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

Interweb the Rainbow with Skittles.
The candy brand managed to garner a lot of attention for its foray into social media.

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Posted in Resources

Links We Like

by Angie King

Oh, hai! Here’s another list of links we’ve been grooving on.

Minnesota smart
Why are the Twin Cities a great place to work on the interwebs? Because of all the smart, passionate people we get to work alongside.

Rethink genius
Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on having vs. being a genius. It’s long, but we highly recommend taking the 20 minutes to watch it.

Social Media, Inc.
Tom Smith explores why big brands struggle with social media. All companies should ponder before signing up for "MyFace," "Twckr," etc.

There are now more websites than there are humans
What does this mean for advertising and getting found?

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Posted in Resources