Saturday, May 7, 2011

One more practicum post to top it off...

As I'm procrastinating studying, I found myself on Twitter, and discovered that some people had been mentioning my blog on Twitter! The UW account responded to some photos I posted (which was then retweeted twice!), among others. Very cool.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Final practicum

I realized I had been neglecting facebook on these posts, so I just wanted to discuss why.

One reason is because we all probably know how facebook works. I didn't feel the need to go into the logistics of how it worked as I would wager that everyone has at least cursory knowledge of how the site works.

The other reason, as I've touched on, is because Facebook really, really sucks as far as discussion. Despite it being the most likely to be determined a community at face value (due to it's using real names and pictures and really just being a website where a lot of people gather) the interface does not lend itself to real conversations.

If someone were to comment on a news post from the Brewers, it gets buried pretty immediately as there are dozens to hundreds of comments on a post, with just 2-3 showing at a time without a user purposefully clicking "more comments". In addition, there is no notification that tells you if there are new comments (or your notification box would get flooded) and it doesn't say how many new comments there are on a post.

I don't know. Facebook is fine and all, just not for the purpose of discussing the Brewers.

Practicum Post #7: Getting Readers

Initially, when I was trying to promote my website, I shared the link on friends' facebook walls, emailed family, etc. My strategies relied almost completely on me reaching out to others. In theory, they could share this content with other people as well, but it didn't really seem to be playing out that way. Then, after checking out a few other blogs/websites, I realized that any site worth its salt that was trying to promote its content had links directly on the page for Facebook and Twitter. So, I downloaded a couple plugins for Wordpress, and spent a good amount of time building these links into my own page.
I kept up my old strategies, but I think these new ones helped a good deal. With every post I made, I would share it on Facebook and Twitter, where it would then get readers who would subsequently reshare it.

Some examples of people sharing and responding to my work:
I even got a Linkedin request from someone working
in the Chicago Media industry who saw/liked my work:

Another reason I tried to share and tweet all my posts was to attempt to optimize my site for search engines. By getting the link out there as much as I could, it would up my standing in search engines like google.

Currently, a search for "Colorful Revolution" in Google
will consistently bring my site up as the number 2 result
(especially cool given that it's also the name of a pretty popular song)

Also, on a good day, a search for "Joel Meyerson" will
bring up as the number 1 result!

So, ultimately, I think this project has been a pretty big success! I definitely accomplished what I wanted to (creating a platform for me to share my art), and I gained a lot of pretty good skills in the process. Not only can I share my photos, films, writings, drawings, etc., but I can do so through a medium that I built, and that I'm actually really proud of.

Practicum Post #6: Taking it Online

Up until this point, I had been building the entire website on a test server running on my computer... actually putting getting the site online was quite an ordeal.

In terms of what service I should use for actually hosting my site, had a few suggestions in their forums. I chose Bluehost, a service which marketed itself as fully compatible with and seeming geared towards hosting Wordpress blogs. So, I paid my money down (about $9/month) and got myself an account and my new domain name.

Then, I got very, very confused. I logged in and was faced with a page that was totally alien. A whole lot of icons, with not a ton of explanation.
Luckily, come in handy again when I found a chapter specifically on how to upload your site from the local drive to the Internet using Dreamweaver. It took me a bit of time and a whole lot of trial and error, but eventually I got a really nice setup going.

Although I had to manually recreate individual blog posts on the new site, I got everything else to sync automatically. My design, preferences, and basically all the behind-the-scenes stuff transferred perfectly after a bit of tinkering. Now, if I want to make a layout change, I can modify the test site on my computer, make sure it works and does everything I want to, then hit "synchronize" in Dreamweaver, and everything is automatically updated online.

It was at this point that I really started to feel like the initial stages of this project were starting to pay off. It really had been a TON of work... I think I met the assignment's 15-hour requirement in the first two weeks of the semester, and didn't significantly slow down until I hit this point. Now that I had the site up and fully operational, any changes would be simple to make... the large-scale trial and error that had characterized my workflow thus far was, for the most part over. Plus, the fact that I could point anybody to my website that I designed and show them my work was incredibly gratifying.

Practicum post #5: Content

Once I had the basic platform for my blog designed, it was time to fill it up with content. For most of my creative works, I function on my computer, so I had more than enough. Organizing it, though, was a different issue. I decided to start semi-chronologically (picking up where I left off on my travel blog from my time abroad), but soon decided that I'd have to be a little more nuanced than that. I wanted a diverse array of content... every post should be something different than before.

So, I took an inventory of everything I wanted to post, then made a list of initial blog posts to be made. I ended up with about 20 bits of content. I organized them by media type (Photos, film, drawing, design, music, writing, radio) and began uploading them, one by one, into separate posts. My choice of basing my blog off of the "Motion" theme to base my blog off of began to pay off here, because it really helped bring some logic to the madness. Each post was intended to be different than the one before it, but by clicking on a "category" tab at the top, a reader can easily choose to view just a single medium.

I had a much more difficult time coming up with a site name than I did coming up with actual content. This had been something I was struggling with for a long time, actually—since before I even began working on this project. It had been, for a while, actually, the only thing keeping me from making a blog. I had run through a lot of potential titles in my head, and almost settled on "For the Turnstiles," a Neil Young song title that in retrospect wouldn't have made much sense as the title of this blog. I wasn't too satisfied with any of my ideas, but one day as I was flipping through my iTunes library, I came across the song "Colorful Revolution" by the Redwalls.

It was perfect! My blog was intended to be a mix of art and insight. As a Com Arts and Poli Sci major, I couldn't think of a better name to sum up the two disciplines. I checked online at GoDaddy, and to my surprise, the domain was untaken! Thus, was born.

Practicum post #4: Look & Feel

Obviously, I wanted my homepage to look different than the preset "Motion" theme. First off, the preset theme had a very dark feel—not exactly what I wanted to go for. So, the first step was changing the background image. I dug through my photo library and found an image of some mountains from Italy:
Then I cropped it in Photoshop and did some subtle color correction to make the whole thing fade into a single color, which would then become the background for my blog and the basis for the rest of the design choices:

One of the elements I chose to keep from the previous design were the transparent blog headers. However, I wanted an opaque color for the blog posts, and eventually settled on a pure white. The default thumbnail logo would have fit really well, actually, with my layout, but I wanted to make the entire thing as original as I could. Given the nature of my blog (multimedia) I decided to use an image of a radio tower—I designed it myself in Adobe Illustrator.
Because I didn't create the template in the first place, the act of changing the general look site was actually a really good way to help me understand how it was built, and how the different parts work together. Each sidebar, textbox, header, etc., tended to be controlled by some different bit of code. In order to change that in any significant way, I had to delve into the code and figure out how to do it.

Especially for someone with very little prior experience with HTML, the "dynamically related" PHP files were a bit of a doozy to figure out. Each piece of the website pointed to some other part which pointed to another... in order to modify something, I often had to do quite a bit of searching to figure out what exactly was controlling that element to begin with.

I spent a particularly long time going through the site and adjusting color, width, spacing, etc., at this point early on, but I've never really stopped. It's been an ongoing process of discovery. I'll find something wrong, or maybe just change my mind about how it should look, and I'll have to go in and change it. No matter how long I run the site, I don't think that'll ever stop.
(On This image, note the radio tower in top left, and the mountains in the background)

Practicum #7: ARIS review

Now that this practicum project is winding down, I figured I'd give a final rundown of ARIS. I've spent a lot of time complaining about it, but I guess there is at least some room for it to grow in the future.

-Takes advantage of iPhone's technology: The Maps feature is the focus of the game, and it typically works well in detecting where you are and keeping the games going.
-Links gamespace with real-life community: This is perhaps the only thing ARIS has going for it that other games don't. All of these games are based on Madison life, and you need to be in Madison to play them (though you can download cheat codes to trick your phone into thinking you're in Madison when you're really not, which is kind of interesting).
-Play at your own pace: With its simple step-by-step style of gameplay, you really can play ARIS at your own pace. You can choose to spend a few hours going from place to place (quest to quest), or spread it over a few weeks.

-Doesn't feel like a "game": It's not fun. It's not entertaining. It's educational, but just in a "Oh, that's interesting" sort of way. It'll show you a little picture of the place you're at, tell you a fact if you're doing the UW Campus Tour or force some element of storytelling on you.
-No different gameplay modes: Walk, watch, walk. That's all you do in ARIS, as it doesn't even really get you thinking. I understand location-based games are different in that you're immersed in the real world as well, but some form of traditional video game gameplay needs to be adopted to make ARIS more fun.
-It doesn't always work: When it crashes so frequently when doing certain things in the app that you know it's about to crash before it actually does, that's bad. Something like that prevents people from trying to get used to ARIS becuase they know doing one specific thing will make it crash. For me, it was accessing the map from the bottom menu bar. That's probably the most important thing in the game, and if the whole thing crashes on me when I try to use it, what does that say about the app?