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Arizona business Marketing

Marketing Lessons From WordCamp Phoenix

I recently volunteered at WordCamp Phoenix, an event I’ve attended in the past. For those who aren’t familiar with WordCamp, it’s a WordPress conference. Most WordCamps are strictly local.

I use WordPress for this website and with a few of my clients. I’ve even developed a couple of sites with it.

WordPress was created to be free (open source) blogging software like Blogger but quickly became the world’s most popular website software. I’ve had my ups and downs with it. However, I still prefer it especially when I compare it to the handful of other website software I’ve used. If you can use word processing software, you can write on a WordPress platform.

WordCamp is a Place Where Everyone is Interested in What You Do

One thing I immediately liked about the first WordCamp I attended a few years ago is that its enthusiasts (they call themselves “evangelists”) aren’t snobby about their WordPress knowledge. They’re eager to share what they know. I was introduced to it in 2009 by a friend who offered to show me how to set up a website for my new writing business. Prior to this exposure, I assumed website software was the tangle known as Dreamweaver that seemed far above my fledgling skills.

WordCamp is a welcoming place where everybody is interested in what everyone else does for a living. If you’re just setting up a website for the first time, there are sponsors and vendors who can explain how they can help you create your site and host it. There are specialists in website security whose tools integrate with WordPress, and website developers who specialize in creating e-commerce sites. And then there are freelance professionals who provide a variety of WordPress technical services and writers (ahem) who can create content for your website.

This WordCamp was a little more friendly to non-technical professionals than past ones. There was a session to show WordPress beginners the main functions. Othere sessions discussed marketing topics that could fit into most business conferences and included topics like best practices for social media, how to create your own website design, and how to develop content that’s likely to answer a Google search.

Even if You Think You’re Pretty Seasoned, a WordCamp Will Tell You Something You Didn’t Know or Forgot About

Frankly, there are so many changes going on in marketing that any good marketing presentation is going to either tell you something new or remind you of a basic concept you’d forgotten about while chasing SEO butterflies.

Here are a few of the marketing items I learned, or re-learned, at WordCamp Phoenix:

Figure out your goals and work backward to plan a way to reach them. It’s OK to do this in steps.

Treat your goals like a target.
State your target, at least to yourself

Mindie Kniss somehow made the concept of planning less threatening, at least to this writer. In fact, I realized that I’ve been doing some of this all along which was very reassuring. Kniss also stressed the importance of building a client list and following up with clients; for example, just checking in, asking how things are going, and so on. I’ve actually landed new assignments this way, by “reminding” clients that they needed a white paper, a new email approach, or someone to ghost-write for one of their own clients.

Poetry serves as a mind hack.

I’m actually tired of the word “hack” but Shawn Pfunder’s use of it makes sense here. Pfunder is a senior communications director for GoDaddy and loves to write, particularly stories for businesses to share with readers. This is an approach I heartily endorse. Pfunder read a few lines from poems and demonstrated how anticipation of the conclusion actually activates neurons. It didn’t hurt that he recited lines from my favorite poet, Bruce Springsteen.

Think about data as you prepare to write.

Data are your friends! (Really, and I’m one of those who sees this as a plural word.) Nikki VanRy, a content marketer who manages Nivan Content, says to do a little

A Google search can highlight keywords and synonyms.
Talk to Google before you write.

research before you sit down to write on a topic to see how people search for it. For example, I conducted these searches in incognito mode to prepare for this article:

  1. is wordcamp useful for marketing
  2. what happens at wordcamp
  3. i hate wordcamp

I’m wondering about the incognito function since a discussion at WordCamp Phoenix was the first item to come up for the first search and it auto-populated my search even though I switched that function off. I guess incognito search still looks at search history even if it’s not recording current searches.

The second search was more of what I’d expect to see–articles that answer the question and used my exact search term. I got a listing for WordCamp Las Vegas (“What happens at WordCamp stays at WordCamp.”)

That last one brought up posts that sought to deny anyone hates WordPress or explain that haters have been given incorrect information. This is helpful because I’m careful to explain terms that probably sound like jargon to non-WordPress users, or at least those who use it as a tool and aren’t particularly interested in understanding its functionalities. I understand where they’re coming from.

Two interesting facts I got from Nikki’s talk:

  1. Only 15% of Google searches are actually unique and have never been done before.
  2. 1 in 20 Google searches are about healthcare.

Technical Topics Impact Marketing, Too

I didn’t go to the higher-end technical sessions, which were easy to identify because I had to look up the acronyms in their titles. But there are topics that lean toward the technical side of things that I think are important for marketers to think about.

The first is security. This happens to be an interest of mine; I volunteer with the Cloud Security Alliance and have a layman’s understanding of why cloud security is actually much safer than you might think.

What does marketing have to do with security? Well for starters, if your site is hacked at the very least it can stop running your brilliant content and replace it with something completely inappropriate, such as advertisements you aren’t being paid for, the President’s taxes, or the absolute worst: your site shuts down altogether.

So it was enlightening to go through Aaron Campbell’s list of website security myths and facts, including:

  • The vast majority of attacks are scripted and not targeted, so even if you feel you’re too insignificant to be a target, you are anyway.
  • If you think changing a WordPress file prefix will protect the file, you’re also losing the opportunity for WordPress to update a vulnerable file since it won’t recognize it.
  • A username like Admin isn’t a security risk. It’s the password that’s the security. The longer and more random a password is, the more security it will provide.
  • Every sight should now have an SSL.

    Don't fear weird-looking Google Analytics.
    Analytics are also your friends.

Aaron, who is the Team Lead for WordPress security, is funded by GoDaddy.

The other sort-of technical topic had to do with analytics. WordCamp usually includes a how-to presentation on analytics. Instead of going through Analytics 101, Google Analytics Explainer Brandy Lawson of FieryFX introduced us to Google Data Studio, which helps build custom reports on analytics that update as they change. I wouldn’t have had a clue this existed at all. If your clients don’t understand Google Analytics’ default reporting, this could be a great solution.

There’s a WordCamp going on somewhere in the world nearly every day. Phoenix will host another one in February; follow it’s Twitter feed at #phxwordcamp. Or visit the WordCamp page on WordPress.com to find one near you.

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Arizona education Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Can Artificial Intelligence Replace the Human Touch?

I attended the sixth annual Phoenix Mobility Conference in September at Arizona State University. This is the second year in a row that a university hosted the event; last year’s conference was at Grand Canyon University.

Interestingly, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR)—not mobile technology—were the focuses for much of this year’s conference. At times, it seemed mobile tech was almost incidental outside of presentations on headset technologies for gaming which, one might presume, has research potential as well.

Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Human Interaction? Should It?

At the risk of using a non sequitur, ASU is a natural fit for discussions about the roles AI and AR can play. The campus is about as connected as one can get, a point emphasized by the keynote speaker Sethuraman Panchanathan (“Panch” to his students and colleagues), who is the face and force behind knowledge enterprise at ASU.

Touching, from human and artificial intelligence
The human touch is superior to one from artificial intelligence.

“Imagine AI giving keynote talks like this,” Dr. Panchanathan said during his keynote. AI’s ability to collect and assess a huge range of data would make keynotes more informative and accurate. Using sophisticated user interface and deep intelligence capabilities, a keynote would anticipate and answer all the questions an audience would have. It would be so much better!

Would it?

I kept wondering if Dr. Panch underestimates the power of human communication skills, including his own. I was drawn in by his enthusiasm and I’m not even a techie or ASU alum. It was interesting to hear how ASU has taken the lead in the knowledge industry, even though at times the keynote sounded like an extended advertisement for the school.

But would I have preferred a presentation from Commander Data? Probably not–and let’s not forget, that character longed to make the ultimate transition into a human.

It’s seeing a well-prepared, live lecture that captures the attention of “other” people we need to persuade to embrace technology, another point Panchanathan made. Let’s leave the presentations to the people involved in the work. Make the artificial intelligence and smart devices available for follow-up when human experts aren’t available.

Will Writers Be Replaced by Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence?

Deep learning was another hot topic at the conference. For those who aren’t familiar with it, deep learning is a part of AI that studies and learns from data to continuously adapt. It’s sort of the opposite of task-oriented machine learning that’s displaced factory jobs once held by real people. Here’s a history of it from MIT Technology Review.

There was some talk of AI being used to create written content, as for websites, blogs, even film scripts. As a writer, I find this alarming.

I also think it’s counterproductive. I don’t know how much AI can or should learn, at least about the human condition. From what I’ve read, AI-produced scripts are pretty bad. Can they get better? Honestly, I hope not. AI should primarily, if not exclusively, be used as a tool.

Let’s put it underground to detect movements–natural and otherwise–that can trigger earthquakes and give people advance warning. Let’s continue to put it in technologies like self-driving automobiles to make traffic flow better and eliminate human errors that range from distracted driving to wrong-way driving (a particularly weird and dangerous problem in the Phoenix area).

If AI’s champions see a role in influencing the human condition, use it to build upon it rather than replace it. Use AI to help people with disabilities successfully navigate new territories, whether it’s practicing to overcome severe anxiety or learning to use an artificial limb to its fullest. How about an AI device to teach new languages more naturally than repeating phrases? Or replace a nervous parent trying to teach an equally nervous teenager to drive?

We need to be smart about how we plan to use AI and keep our expectations to utility, not replacing functions best done by people. Aside from Elon Musk’s warnings about AI driving the next world war, AI is a tricky tool that requires careful planning, security, and above all, control.

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Arizona business Marketing

Make Your Website ADA Compliant

I was surprised to read that an important part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) still hasn’t been finalized. Final rules were supposed to be issued last year about making websites ADA compliant, but have been delayed to next year.

However, this hardly means that businesses required to meet ADA requirements for physical access—schools, public buildings, and “places of public accommodation”—should remain ignorant where their websites are concerned. There are proposed rules to follow for now and it’s a safe bet that they are very close to what the final rule will look like.

Honestly, there really is no reason for their websites to not have basic accessibility tools in place by now.

A Google search will identify articles, tools, and experts to help you understand steps you can take to make your site more accessible. And guess what: people with disabilities and their families are potential customers. They buy stuff, go out to eat, and enjoy the same entertainment as the rest of us. Why lose an opportunity for more sales?

Modern Websites Can Offer ADA Compliant Tools

I recently worked a short contract for A Very Large Company that falls under ADA accessibility rules. It’s got wide, powered doors for wheelchair users, Braille elevator controls, and accessible restrooms. I spotted one blind employee. But the “AVLC” website isn’t ADA-compliant, at least as far as current guidelines suggest it should be for an organization its size.

People inside AVLC are aware and understand that the old web technology they use is a problem. Although one tool is a Microsoft product, the latest IE update impacted its functionality. Some of its functions actually work better on Chrome.

Let everyone see your website.
Don’t you want your site to be visible to all?

If Microsoft can’t be bothered to update an old tool, why continue using it?

The AVLC people I worked with expect to have new and presumably compliant web software in place in 2019. I’d bet the barn that ADA still won’t be finalized by then and they’re probably counting on it. Still, this keeps them from communicating with all their customers.

I’m a small business and do not run a place of public accommodation, so I don’t have to concern myself about ADA rules. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a few steps to make my website a friendlier place for a person with limited vision to visit and think, hmm, I wonder if she’s available for blogging? (Yes! I am!)

I’ve added a few tools that help low-vision visitors get around my site a little easier. The most obvious one is a little toggle menu off to the left that provides larger fonts and greater contrast. It came from a free WordPress plugin I’m testing and I’ll happily make a donation to its designer if all goes well.

WordPress has a number of plugins that provide everything from testing your site to identify ADA gaps to providing general and very specific fixes. You can search the WordPress theme repository for ADA-compliant themes. (Be sure to refresh if you use this link.) WordPress’s own accessibility team posts updates, news, and recommended tools.

The ADA Changed America for the Better

The ADA, of course, literally opened American doors to persons with disabilities. And that’s a good thing.

  • Curb cuts and wider doors let people who use wheelchairs (and later, scooters) get around more easily.
  • Braille readouts on ATMs, elevators, and directories allow people with low or no vision to more fully participate in commerce.
  • Use of close-captioning tools brings more deaf people into worksites, cinemas, and theaters.

Curb cuts are helpful to parents pushing strollers and kids learning how to ride a bike. And many of us have used the larger accessible restroom stall not only for its purpose but to also to keep a little one close by and change clothes and/or diapers.

ADA also made us work more intelligently.

Think about innovations like IM, texting, and other person-to-person communications that helped office communications and cut down on chatter that makes it hard to write. They also reduced the instances of the embarrassing or annoying “reply to all” on email.

I remember reading about a deaf colleague in New Orleans who was stranded during Hurricane Katrina. She worried about using up her cell phone battery trying to contact a sister out of state via the TTY tool. Mobile communications were jammed and calls couldn’t get through—but her text used minimal power and eventually got through as she walked (yes, walked) to the airport to catch a flight out. Guess who came for dinner?

I’m not sure why websites are seen as a greater challenge when it comes to defining ADA compliance and making it happen. But’s it’s theoretically possible to make your site compliant, as attorney Angela Gibson writes in the Cincinnati Business Courier. Lawsuits against businesses with inaccessible websites have “spiked” since early 2015, Gibson says, and companies need to take precautionary measures. The tools are there, and let’s start using them.

 

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Arizona business Arizona issues Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

The Internet of Things – Alive in Arizona!

You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things. You might have quickly decided it sounds like too much to look up. Let me simplify it for you: it’s about using the Internet to control your stuff that may or may not be mobile.

Is the Internet of Things too all-seing and all-knowing?
What’s not to like about the Internet of Things? Security, for one but Arizona’s IoT firms are working on it.

I already knew this, and had a pretty good idea about how it works. I’ve written about the “smart home” concepts for clients and wondered how safe this is. Aren’t there geniuses in North Korea and China chained to cubicles and ordered to hack our smartphones this very moment?

If I wired my home security to the phone, what could stop some devious person from breaking in and stealing Junior Yankee from me in the dead of a late Saturday morning when he’s asleep but I’m away at a conference on the Internet of Things? Or what if they want my adorable Chihuahua and Dachahuahua? Is IoT, as it’s also known, a safe place?

The Internet of Things is a Wonderful and Scary Place

I got an email about a local IoT DevFest. Since it was being held at the Mesa Arts Center, I figured it was hosted by a legitimate tech group and not a nefarious dictatorship, although its co-sponsors included Google Developers and Intel.

I’m just joking! Really, Google, get a sense of humor.

A very nice guy named Mike Wolfson (he’s an Android/Java developer) organized the conference on behalf of the Phoenix Meetup for the Internet of Things. He comped me a ticket after I emailed him asking if it would be too technical for an interested, semi-techy, writer.

It was time well-spent. Not only did I learn much more about IoT, but out of a group of perhaps 150 people, there was no line for the ladies’ room during the first, post-coffee break. (Not so the mens room!)

Here are more reasons to like IoT:

  • It’s a bona fide Arizona industry. There are firms right here in our state doing amazing work with IoT most of us couldn’t have imagined five years ago.
  • Its growth potential is huge. A few speakers cited a Gartner Research finding that about a million new devices come online each day, making IoT is a potential $14 billion market.
  • It enables and improves technologies, including mobile technology. A Tempe manufacturer called Local Motors created a series of 3D printed cars. Check out their video below.
    • How is this related to IoT? It’s powered by a platform created by another Tempe company, Octoblu (now owned by Citrix), which works to integrate anything and everything through the Internet. You can control the car through a laptop and I’m sure, through a very well-protected smartphone someday soon.
  • IoT developers care about delivering quality products. I’m among millions of frustrated people who’ve written about abysmally slow US Internet speeds. IoT platform designers will be the ones to push for a faster Internet on our shores. Here’s an article I wrote on Internet Speed a couple of years ago.

 

Here’s where IoT is scary: security gaps.

Platform developers like Octoblu are working hard to maximize security on their end. They’re constantly hiring people to hack their systems and help them identify where there are weak spots. It won’t be easy for Kim Jong Un’s minions to break into their platform.

The problem comes from the device side of things, where there are no security standards. The best platform developers can do is blacklist devices and firms that are notoriously sloppy and easy to hack. They should also take the lead in persuading and assisting mobile developers to improve security and invest in new safeguards.

Right now, the safest way to communicate between two places is peer-to-peer (P2P), which of course makes it less “mobile” in some ways, but it is the most difficult to hack.

The Phoenix IoT Community is Robust and Enthusiastic

Honestly, IoT folks are not just enthusiastic at work but also at 9 am on a bright Saturday morning, after a rainy week when it’s tempting to ditch a conference and go for a hike.

Not this group. The auditorium was full for the keynote speaker, Octoblu founder and local IoT god, Chris Matthieu, who sports an impressive twirly-style mustache. In this video, he explains how Citrix used Octoblu technologies to power that 3D car.

Citrix also hosts the IoT Hackers Meetup. As a member of a couple of WordPress meetups, I appreciate when companies loan their spaces.

Another local group that brings together IoT developers is CO+HOOTS. It shares offices in downtown Phoenix to encourage collaboration among techies in various areas, including software and app developers. You don’t have to be a techie to use their space, though: the site lists graphic designers, filmmakers, photographers, and independent types like lawyers, real estate agents, and ahem, writers as among their members.

While developers tend to work for their own firms, IcedDev is one local group that hires consultants to work with companies involved in development. I won’t pretend to understand a lot of what they do but its founder, Luis Montes, talked a lot about JavaScript (the group sponsors a local Java/Node Meetup). He also discussed an interesting development in Bluetooth technology that links sensors on low-powered devices like heart monitors to the web. This allows for remote patient monitoring, perhaps as a backup for onsite hospital staff attending to emergencies elsewhere.

Want to know what the experts say will be IoT highlights in 2016? Check out this blog entry from Chris Witeck, Citrix’s chief technology strategist.

 

 

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Arizona business Arizona education Arizona issues Arizona social issues Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Still Outsourcing Local Talent?

I attended the Phoenix Mobile Festival recently, an annual event for people who develop apps and technologies for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology like smart watches. While I’m not a developer, I like to keep up on mobile developments. Since this was a local event, I was very surprised to hear a speaker praising outsourcing, a scourge that’s hurting Arizona’s efforts to become a tech leader rivaling Silicone Valley.

Banner for the Phoenix Mobile Festival
Is a technical conference the place to talk about the joys of outsourcing?

Is This the Time to Advise Talent Outsourcing?

I missed the first half of Fred von Graf’s session on “Secrets to Building a Million-Dollar Business.” I was learning about complications and time travel.

Normally, I welcome business development talks because Lord knows I can use advice on building this business, getting new (paying) clients, and networking. The title of von Graf’s session struck me as silly and cheap, but after checking out an Android development session, I figured I’d make room for a real developer and went into the Million Dollar session.

There I sat, horrified, as this person advised, over and over, to look overseas for tech teams.

I didn’t think people were still hot on outsourcing. I had read that a lot of companies have pulled out and are hiring US workers, whose training and, I suspect culture, match theirs more closely. In fact, I’ve read about companies in India that are outsourcing for US talent!

It came up from a question about where to find freelance tech teams. To get a really good idea of who works well on your project, von Graf advised hiring three teams to do the same project and pick the one that did it best.

How can I pay for that? another person asked.

Easy. Hire teams from overseas. “Their price points are much more competitive then you’ll find in the US.”

von Graf then spent several minutes extolling the virtues of overseas teams. He went on to say that he tells all his clients to hire overseas, where the work can get done for so much less. He groused about his one single client who refuses to hire foreign labor. “He’s spending so much more than he should,” he said, shaking his head.

I was livid, practically shaking.

Don’t Outsource Arizonans!

It made no sense to me. Here he is, in Arizona—a state that desperately needs jobs and encourages people to get educated for tech jobs—telling businesses in Arizona to outsource these very jobs.

von Graf isn’t unfamiliar with Arizona. He’s active in Scottsdale’s SkySong tech community. He’s been featured by GrowSouthwest, a company that nurtures entrepreneurs and independent businesses “everywhere,” but does that mean outside the Southwest, or the entire US?

I was a little relieved to hear grumbling about outsourced jobs from the audience. No one, though, challenged the idea.

Infusionsoft, which hosted the festival, is well-known in Arizona’s tech sector. It won the Pioneer Award from the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation. “This recognition is further validation of the impact we’re having on the global small-business community and the tech sector here in Arizona,” Infusionsoft’s CTO told the Phoenix Business Journal.

After the session, I discussed what I heard with two vendors at the site. One mentioned he had used overseas vendors from Poland and India. They didn’t work out so well. “We ended up redoing a lot of the work. They just couldn’t understand what we wanted.”

The owners of another business, both from India, was also bothered by outsourcing. “We only hire people in the US,” they told me. True, their clients were mostly state governments, but they also showcased a growing number of US businesses.


I’m sure von Graf is a good guy. He encouraged people to contact him after his session. He’s eager to share what he knows and to mentor small businesses in the tech sector.

But shouldn’t that also mean keeping potential jobs in Arizona? Does every business have to make a million bucks? And will this only happen by outsourcing jobs elsewhere?