February 25, 2011

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Trying out Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature

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I gave Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature a try today in order to learn more about it and rehearse for my upcoming presentation of "Remote Presentations That Rock". I announced it on Twitter a few minutes before I wanted to present. Around 12 people turned up to say hi, learn, and share. I was a little nervous with excitement (and lack of water nearby), but I relaxed as I got into the swing of it.

Zipcast has the usual web conferencing system features, with more in the works. Attendees need an account with either Slideshare or Facebook. You can flip through slides, broadcast video from your webcam, and use the text chat for discussions. Where it shines is in its ease of sharing: no unusual plug-ins or software downloads, Twitter and Facebook announcements built-in, and no meeting limits.

People can flip through slides on their own, too, which could be either useful or distracting for people. You may want to avoid slide-based jokes with lots of lead-up, considering that people can flip ahead and see your punchline. Winking smile

You can’t point to specific things on the slides or record your presentations, but I hear those features are in the plan. You also can’t get the list of attendees yet, so you might want to ask someone to track that for you. Don’t look for screen-sharing in this system yet, but who knows what the future will bring?

Zipcast’s an interesting entry in a crowded web-conferencing space. The ease of presenting and attending will probably win over many users of other conferencing systems, and the price is hard to beat: free at the moment, no matter how big a web meeting you have.

Zipcast’s a promising way to reach lots of people on the Internet, and I’m going to experiment with it more. I’ll still use LotusLive for my IBM web conferences. I like the features of LotusLive, including the ability to draw on my slides in real-time and the ease of inviting people without requiring accounts. (Besides, LotusLive is IBM!) But Zipcast is a nifty (and currently free) way to reach people online, so it’s worth a try.

Tips on using Zipcast:

  • People need Slideshare/Facebook accounts to attend, so give people time to sign up if needed.
  • You can broadcast audio using your computer – no need to dial in. The audio conference information for Pro users can be confusing, though, so you may need to tell people they don’t have to log in. (Slideshare: It would be great to have a small place where speakers can post persistent messages: useful URLs, notes about communication, etc. Maybe right under the video or under the conference info?)
  • Encourage people to ask questions and share their thoughts in the text chat.
  • The drop-in nature of the presentation can be disconcerting as people filter in throughout the session. Try schedule your presentations with a bit more warning time, or build it so that you regularly recap throughout the presentation.
  • Check out http://sachachua.com/blog/remote for more tips for remote presentations.

Things that would make this even better for me:

  • Message box for details like communication instructions, URL for further resources
  • Participant list and stats: when joined, when left (and on which slide, if possible)…
  • Way to easily save the text chat
  • Pointer. Pen too, if possible, for annotating slides.
  • Download link for presentation?
  • Easy tweeting from within presentation
  • Raise hands / polling interactions

Here’s an interesting thought: How would you structure a presentation to take advantage of the sharing capabilities of Zipcast, including the “post to Facebook” checkbox in the text chat? Maybe you can sprinkle “Twitter/FB/Q&A” breaks throughout your talk. If you get someone (or program a macro) to paste in retweetable or repostable soundbites, that would be a way of sharing ideas with people’s networks. Hmm…

I’m thinking of doing presentations every Saturday in March, from 12 noon to 1pm EST, at http://slideshare.net/sachac/meeting. My planned lineup: The Shy Connector, Remote Presentations That Rock, Get More Value from Blogging, and Six Steps to Sharing. It’ll be good to share tips and learn from others. Anything you’d particularly like to see from my past presentations or blog posts?

What’s a good way to plan these upcoming events so that you can easily save them to your calendar and receive updates? Eventbrite and other event-management systems seem a little heavyweight compared to the ease of Zipcast’s sharing. Any suggestions?

In other news, I think I’ve figured out my studio setup: bounce the daylight-balanced lamps off the ceiling (low setup) or use umbrella reflectors (fancy setup), position the folding background in front of the cabinet to hide the My Little Cthulhu doll and other distracting things, and broadcast away. Now if I can figure out where to put a small hairlight…

Get More Value from Blogging, part II: The Compounding Value of an Archive

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

Update: Added quote from Donald Knuth, thanks to Mohamed!

The value of blogging: Part II: Archive

Blogging provides value immediately and in the long run. Blog posts are saved in a chronological archive that can be browsed, searched, and organized into categories. The more you write, the more valuable this archive becomes.


1. Search

But men are men; the best sometimes forget.

Shakespeare

What did I ever do before writing? I’m not sure, but it probably involved reinventing the wheel again and again. My blog archive saves me time that I would’ve wasted re-solving problems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched my blog for notes. I’ve even come across answers to things I’d completely forgotten solving.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes I don’t remember the words I used. I have a sneaky suspicion that Google might not have indexed all of my blog’s pages, too. But I can usually turn up what I’m looking for, and that’s good enough to keep me writing.

Tips:

  • Whenever you solve problems that took you a lot of time to figure out, spend a few extra minutes to write up your notes.
  • When writing, think about whatever keywords you think you might use when searching. Use as many of them as you can, either including them in the text or using them as categories/tags for your post. That increases your chances of finding information again.

Examples:


2. Review

What is past is prologue.

Shakespeare

Where did all that time go? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question or struggled to fill in the boxes during annual performance reviews, you might find a blog useful.

I use my blog for weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews. My archived notes make it easy to remember what I was working on and what I achieved. As a result, annual reviews are more fun than painful. This helps set a rhythm for my life, too.

Regular reviews keep me on track. I can review my plans and see how I’m doing, or change them if my priorities have shifted. I can tell when I’ve been procrastinating something for a while (it shows up on multiple reviews!) and I can think about whether or not I really want to do it.

Tips:

  • Build a habit of weekly reviews, then include monthly and yearly reviews as you get the hang of it.
  • Use your review time to reflect on your past and plan your future.

3. Growth

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.

Benjamin Franklin

Writing about my decisions helps me review them later. For example, I wrote about limiting my blog posts to one a day. A year later, I revisited that decision to see if it still made sense for me. I’ve got notes about what I want to do with IBM and some of the reasons why I love my husband, and I add to those regularly. Being able to read through my blog archive makes it easier to remember the reasons for my decisions and to detect when things are changing.

Written accounts allow me to compare my past selves with the present. How have I improved my skills? How have I changed my mind? What have I lost and what have I gained? I can trace my stick-figure skills from my first such presentation in 2008 to my most-recent presentation through the evolution of my sketches. (I’ve gotten better at drawing quickly, but I don’t draw with many colours as I used to.)

Tips:

  • Write down your reasons for a decision. Set a reminder to review your decision and see if it’s worthwhile.
  • Write about your feelings and experiences to help you revisit them.

4. Overview

The very act of communicating one’s work clearly to other people will improve the work itself.

Donald Knuth

How do you know what you know? If you were to make a list of things you could teach other people, you’d probably be able to quickly list some recent items, but you might forget to mention things you learned several years ago. Blog archives can help you remember what you know so that you can build on it, combine it with other ideas, or share it with other people.

My archive helps me get a sense of what I know about a topic and how to organize that logically. I can see the gaps that I need to learn and document. As I revise, I improve my understanding.

By looking at what I tend to write about, I can get a sense of where I pay attention and how that attention changes over time. I can also use my archive to slowly build resources for summary posts with links to details.

Tips:

  • Use categories to organize your posts so that you can view them by topic.
  • Review your posts by category to see if you can write a better summary.
  • Plan what you want to learn, write about the details, and then review your archives for the overview.

Examples:


4. Value

A good blog archive’s value goes beyond the value of its individual posts. When people come to your blog because of a search result or a referral, they can explore your archives to learn more about the topics they’re interested in and about you as a person. This is the compounding value

Tips:

  • Make it easy for people to discover related posts. Use a plugin that lists similar posts, or include links to relevant posts when you write. Encourage people to use categories to browse your archive.
  • Keep writing, even if it’s one tip at a time. Over the years, your archive can become a valuable resource.

5. Rediscovery

I’ve written enough that I don’t remember what I’ve written, and I enjoy rediscovering myself. It’s weird, isn’t it, getting to know yourself like that. I enjoy flipping through my past posts and hearing my past self. She’s very much like me: perhaps a bit deeper into open source (time and the ability to freely participate), less confident in the kitchen, but cheery and reflective all the same. I don’t flip through my archive frequently, but it’s fun to bump into my old self through random posts or “On this Day” posts.

Tips:

  • Write. Yes, even about the everyday things, the little memories. You never know what might make you smile in the future.
  • When you have more posts, try plugins like Random Posts or On This Day to help you bump into older posts.
  • Consider printing out a paper copy of your posts for easier flipping through. I do this every year.