elearningpost: Excellent Online Learning Resource

Over the last year or two, I’ve been quietly educating myself about the field of online learning. I’m fascinated by this field and its possibilities, and I plan to start offering my own online learning modules (and creating them for my clients).

I’ve discovered lots of cool online learning resources, so I’m going to start covering them in CONTENTIOUS. Here’s one of my favorites:

Elearningpost bills itself as “an intelligent digest of daily links to articles and news stories about corporate learning, community building, instructional design, knowledge management, personalization, and more.” Its creator is Maish R Nichani. It offers daily news blurbs as well as clear, to-the-point feature articles.

What I like best about elearningpost….
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A Nickname! Yes! That’s What I Meant!

Choice of words is crucial. The right word, with exactly the right undertones and implications, can slice through misunderstandings – while poor or even slightly “off” word choices can breed confusion or even animosity.

My experience with offering this Rename RSS Contest has definitely emphasized that lesson to me. It’s only been now, a couple of months into the process, that what seems like a far better and cleaner word choice has become apparent:

The goal of this contest is to find a good nickname for RSS feeds!

I must thank my colleague J.D. Lasica for this simple yet powerful insight. The word “nickname” succinctly conveys what I’ve been trying in a more clumsy way to communicate…
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Bug Fix for This Site (I think)

Ever since I relaunched CONTENTIOUS as a weblog, I’ve had an intermittent weird display problem. From time to time, when someone would view the full text of one of my longer articles, the text would cut off before the end of the article, at the same position as the end of the right-hand column in my blog layout. (If you hit the browser “refresh” button the full page would load, but that was not intuitive to everyone.)

I think I’ve finally tracked down and fixed that problem. It’s a bug with how Cascading Style Sheets interacts with IE6, known as the IE6 scroll bug. If you use Movable Type weblog software and are experiencing the same problem in your weblog, here’s the fix that has worked for me.

In the “Individual Entry Archive” template, insert this code just before the </body> tag:
<div style=”clear:both;”></div>

I found that fix in this discussion thread.

So anyway, now I think that problem is fixed – but if you’re still seeing that problem, please e-mail me.

Page Titles that Attract Readers

I’ve got to say it. It really bugs me when I see great content presented on a Web page for which no page title (or a poor page title) is specified.

I realize that many writers neglect to specify page titles because they either are unaware of the existence or importance of this key Web page element, or because they don’t know how to specify a page title.

However, if you publish content online and you want people to find your content easily via search engines, bookmark lists, and other common online wayfinding tools, it’s pretty important to understand what a page title is, how to specify it, and what makes a successful page title.

It’s easy. Here’s what you need to know…
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Rename RSS: Let the Voting Begin!

Let your voice be heard! Which of 273 ideas entered in my Rename RSS Contest do you think would make the best colloquial (common) name for “RSS feed?”


DEADLINE: Public voting in this contest will close Feb 29, 2004. After that, our panel of judges will select the final winner from the short list of most popular names that this voting process is expected to yield. A winner should be announced by mid-March, 2004.

Remember – You can only vote once in this contest, so choose carefully. You may want to review the full list of entries before casting your vote.

Spread the Word! In order to get a truer picture of which name stands the best chance of helping to popularize RSS feeds to a mainstream audience, I’d like as many people as possible to vote in this contest. Please feel free to share the following links with your audiences, colleagues, friends, and family:

…Please note that it is now too late to suggest additional names to be judged in this contest.

(What’s RSS, anyway? Read my RSS backgrounder.)

“Feed Fishing:” Finding Cool RSS Feeds

Commenting on Friday’s posting, “How to Create Your Own RSS Feed,” Cheryl Morgan asked, “How do you find feeds that might be of interest to you?”

Excellent question! (Actually, she posed some other excellent questions too, but I’m tackling this one first.)

There are plenty of ways to find interesting RSS feeds, just like there are plenty of ways to find interesting Web sites. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned for finding RSS feeds that I like and use.

I’d like to hear your favorite “feed fishing” strategies too! Be sure to comment here with your ideas.
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How to Create Your Own RSS Feed

(NOTE: Don’t miss my Sept. 27 update to this article, Setting Up Your Own Webfeeds, Continued)

Creating a basic RSS feed for your Web site is pretty easy, even if you aren’t comfortable with technology or programming.

Personally, I think it’s a huge mistake for anyone with a Web site or weblog to NOT offer a feed these days. That’s why I’m telling you here how to do it!

Syndicating your content via an RSS feed makes your site much easier for people to find, remember, and follow – given the speed with which a typical Web user’s list of bookmarks becomes unwieldy. Plus, RSS is far more effective and reliable than e-mail announcements in terms of alerting your readers about fresh content – because let’s face it, the overwhelming proliferation of spam and viruses is killing e-mail publishing.

Here are some options for creating your own RSS feed…
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Cool Spoofs on Official Announcements

I dearly love a great parody, and recently I happened across two parodies of official government announcements that had me rolling on the floor.

First, there’s the Sesame Street Terror Alert Level. I love this parody because, in my opinion, the official American color-coded Threat Advisory System is so cryptic and vague as to be dangerously meaningless in practical terms.

By the way, here is today’s Terror Level:

Terror Alert Level

…Yep, that makes about as much sense to me as a “yellow alert.”

Second, apparently some folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been passing around a fabulous spoof press release. The release, “Martian Air Force Denies Stories of UFO Crash” begins:

“Gusev Crater (MPI) – A spokesbeing for Mars Air Force denounced as false rumors that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert, outside of Ares Vallis on Saturday. Appearing at a press conference today, General Rgrmrmy The Lesser stated that “the object was, in fact, a harmless high-altitude weather balloon, not an alien spacecraft.”

BRILLIANT! Many thanks to Steven Aftergood, editor of one of my very favorite serious newsletter, FAS Secrecy News, for having the guts to run this!

Link Text Tips

If you’re writing for online media, the text that you specify as hyperlinks can make or break your Web content. Well-crafted links not only connect – they also inform, guide, highlight, and create context.

Web users tend to scan content quickly before reading a page word-by-word. Effective link text makes online content easier to scan, since links visually “stand out” from Web pages, HTML e-mail messages, or RSS feed content (they’re typically displayed as underlined, bold, or colored text). Therefore, if you create your links with scanning in mind, you’ll help your online audience quickly grasp your content.

Here are five tips for more effective links:
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Usability: Good Resource from a Surprising Place

I wouldn’t have expected it, but the National Cancer Institute offers a great basic resource on Web usability, Usability.gov. It’s very straightforward and fairly non-geeky – even when it covers some necessary technical topics such as server log analysis.

I mention this resource because I think it’s pretty important that online content professionals understand at least the basics of usability issues. I’ve written on this before: “Usability and Content.”

(Thanks to my colleague, science writer Catherine Dold for bringing this resource to my attention!)