Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

January 20 2011

12:00

Organising your journalism: Springpad

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with a new web service and mobile app called Springpad. LifeHacker describes it as a “super advanced personal assistant”. And I can see particular applications for journalists and editors. Here’s how it works:

Investigating on the move, and online

In Springpad you create a ‘notebook’ for each of your projects. You can then place Tasks, Notes, bookmarks and other objects in those notebooks.

For a journalist, the notebook format lends itself well to projects or investigations that you’re working on, especially as ideas occur to you on the move. As new tasks occur to you (‘I must interview that guy’, or ‘follow up that lead’) you add them to the relevant notebook (i.e. project or investigation) from the mobile app – or the website.

If you’re browsing the web and find a useful resource, you can use the Springpad bookmarklet to bookmark it, tag it, and add it to the relevant notebook(s).

And any emails or documents you receive that relate to the project you can forward to your Springpad account.

What’s particularly useful is the way you can choose to make public entire notebooks or individual items within them. So if you want others to be able to access your work, you can do so easily.

There are also a range of other features – such as events, contacts, barcode recognition, search, and a Chrome bookmarklet – some of which are covered in this video:

How I use it

Springpad seems to me a particularly individually-oriented tool rather than something that could be used for coordinating large groups (where Basecamp, for example, is better). None of its constituent elements – tagging, to-do lists, notes, etc. – are unusual, but it’s the combination, and the mobile application, that works particularly well.

If you have a number of projects on the go at any one time you tend to have to a) constantly remember what needs to be done on each of them; b) when; c) with whom; and d) keep track of documents relating to it. The management of these is often spread across To Do lists, a calendar, contacts book, and filing or bookmarks.

What Springpad effectively does is bring those together to one place on your mobile: the app (although at the moment there’s no real reason to use it for contacts). This means you can make notes when they occur to you, and in one place. The fact that this is both synced with the website and available on the app when offline gives it certain advantages over other approaches.

That said, I’ve adopted a few strategies that make it more useful:

  • Assign a date to every Task – even if it’s in 3 months’ time. This turns it into a calendar, and you can see how many things you need to get done on any given day, and shuffle accordingly.
  • Tasks should be disaggregated – i.e. producing an investigation will involve interviews, research, follow ups, and so on. Each of these is a separate task.
  • Start the day by looking at your tasks for that day – complete a couple of small ones and then focus on a bigger one.
  • If new ideas related to a Task occur to you, add them to that task as a note (these are different to standalone Notes). This is particularly useful for tasks that are weeks in the future: by the time they come around you can have a number of useful notes attached to it.
  • Use tags to differentiate between sub-projects within a notebook.
  • Install the bookmarklet on your phone’s browser so you can bookmark project-related webpages on the go.
  • Add the email address to your contacts so you can email key documents and correspondence to your account (sadly at the moment you still need to then open the app or website to tag and file them, but I’m told they are working on you being able to email-and-file at once).

Not a replacement for Delicious

You can import all of your Delicious bookmarks into Springpad, but I’ve chosen not to, partly because the site lacks much of the functionality that I’m looking for in a Delicious replacement, but also because I see it as performing a different task: I use Delicious as a catch-all, public filing system for anything that is or might be relevant to what I do and have done. Springpad is about managing what I’m doing right now, which means being more selective about the bookmarks that I save in it. Flooding it with almost 10,000 bookmarks would probably reduce its usefulness.

For the same reason I don’t see it as particularly comparable to Evernote. Dan Gold has an extensive guide explaining why he switched from Evernote to Springpad, and simplicity again plays a large role. It’s also worth reading to see how Dan uses the tool.

Perhaps the best description of the tool is as a powerful To Do list – allowing you to split projects apart while also keeping those parts linked to other items through notes, tags and categories.

Early days – room for improvement

The tool is a bit rough around the edges at the moment. Navigation of the app could be a lot quicker: to get from a list of all Tasks to those within one notebook takes 3 clicks at the moment – that’s too many.

Privacy could be more granular, allowing password-protection for instance. And the options to add contacts and events seem to be hidden away under ‘Add by type’ (in fact, the only way to add an event at the moment appears to be to sync with your Google account and then use a calendar app to add a new event through your Google calendar, or to go to an existing event in your app and create a new one from there).

The bookmarklet is slow to work, and alerts only come via RSS feed (you could use Feedburner to turn these into email alerts by the way).

That said, this is the first project management that I’ve actually found effective in getting stuff out of my head and onto virtual paper. Long may that continue.

November 04 2010

14:10

A Six-Step Process for Managing Web Projects

After years of intensive work in the IT industry, I've put together a practical guide to project development that my company uses for 99 percent of our projects. So far we've done amazingly well with this approach. Once you know it, it feels so simple and natural that you don't even know you know it. In the interest of helping other folks with their development projects -- and to encourage you to offer your tips and suggestions in the comments -- I offer our process.

Step One: Consultations

This is where you start brainstorming about the core idea, as well as any potential solutions and technologies. Capture all of the the ideas, solutions, and any relevant prices etc. You can only proceed with the next step when you feel ready to talk about specific functionality, prices and timelines.

Step Two: Planning

Make a list of all the features and functions you can imagine for this project. Then start estimating how much money and time it requires for each. Now go through your list and prioritize the functions to determine which need to be launched right away, and which are less important and can wait for a future update. Now you can begin to see how much time and money you need to build architecture, interface, design and do the bug-fixing and configuration. Move to the next step once you've established the development timeline and resolved that with the available budget.

Step Three: Wireframe

Take a blank piece of blank paper and sketch the basic structure of a website or application, and the relationships between its pages or sections. Draw your menus and the main elements. Go into as much detail as you consider important, but know that you don't have to plan through each and every element or establish every detail about how things will work and look.

Step Four: Interface

Using your wireframe as a guide, draw everything that has to appear in the final product, including everything that needs to be there. Figure out all the links, all the menus and interface methods, such as pop-up, drop-down, slider etc. You can still do this on a blank piece of paper, but I suggest to using software such as yED, which is a free download. Take your time with this stage. When you have it perfect, set it aside for at least one day and then examine it with fresh eyes. Try to find at least two places where you can save a click, make a more intuitive menu, or make something else better. Then print it out and you're ready to go with the next step.

Step Five: Design

If you haven't already begun working with him/her, begin meeting with your designer(s). Present wireframe sketches and the interface. Explain the tricky spots, explain why things are there as they are, and how your ideas have evolved. Now it's time to let them get to work.

Step Six: Programming

You should provide three things to your development team: the list of functionality, the interface outline, and the design. Now they work to make it all real.

Obviously, a lot more happens in the development and testing stage, and in future posts I'll share more advice and lessons about that and more. For now, share your thoughts and process int the comments.

14:10

A Six-Step Process for Managing and Developing Web/IT Projects

After years of intensive work in the IT industry, I've put together a practical guide to project development that my company uses for 99 percent of our projects. So far we've done amazingly well with this approach. Once you know it, it feels so simple and natural that you don't even know you know it. In the interest of helping other folks with their development projects -- and to encourage you to offer your tips and suggestions in the comments -- I offer our process.

Step One: Consultations

This is where you start brainstorming about the core idea, as well as any potential solutions and technologies. Capture all of the the ideas, solutions, and any relevant prices etc. You can only proceed with the next step when you feel ready to talk about specific functionality, prices and timelines.

Step Two: Planning

Make a list of all the features and functions you can imagine for this project. Then start estimating how much money and time it requires for each. Now go through your list and prioritize the functions to determine which need to be launched right away, and which are less important and can wait for a future update. Now you can begin to see how much time and money you need to build architecture, interface, design and do the bug-fixing and configuration. Move to the next step once you've established the development timeline and resolved that with the available budget.

Step Three: Wireframe

Take a blank piece of blank paper and sketch the basic structure of a website or application, and the relationships between its pages or sections. Draw your menus and the main elements. Go into as much detail as you consider important, but know that you don't have to plan through each and every element or establish every detail about how things will work and look.

Step Four: Interface

Using your wireframe as a guide, draw everything that has to appear in the final product, including everything that needs to be there. Figure out all the links, all the menus and interface methods, such as pop-up, drop-down, slider etc. You can still do this on a blank piece of paper, but I suggest to using software such as yED, which is a free download. Take your time with this stage. When you have it perfect, set it aside for at least one day and then examine it with fresh eyes. Try to find at least two places where you can save a click, make a more intuitive menu, or make something else better. Then print it out and you're ready to go with the next step.

Step Five: Design

If you haven't already begun working with him/her, begin meeting with your designer(s). Present wireframe sketches and the interface. Explain the tricky spots, explain why things are there as they are, and how your ideas have evolved. Now it's time to let them get to work.

Step Six: Programming

You should provide three things to your development team: the list of functionality, the interface outline, and the design. Now they work to make it all real.

Obviously, a lot more happens in the development and testing stage, and in future posts I'll share more advice and lessons about that and more. For now, share your thoughts and process int the comments.

March 18 2010

18:13

At PBS IdeaLab: "How to Break Through the Difficult 'Phase 2' of Any Project"

If you want to know what it's like pitching a new media project, just go to the experts:

This South Park clip, a classic in its own right, is a favorite around the MIT Center for Future Civic Media because every single new media project -- ours and those from our Knight News Challenge colleagues -- inevitably hits a wall at "Phase 2."

For South Park's Underpants Gnomes, "Phase 1: Collect underpants" is like every great idea we've all had: It doesn't quite make sense to everyone else yet, but we know it's gold. We also know it totally will lead to reinventing the news industry for the better. It will use technology in a new way, it will draw upon existing competencies in communities, and it will be financially sustainable. Totally. It therefore leads to "Phase 3: Profit."

But the sound of crickets at Phase 2 is the challenge. You have that revolutionary idea, but how can you be sure you're meeting an information need of a particular community before you spend your time and money?

Continue reading at PBS MediaShift Idea Lab

15:32

How to Break Through the Difficult 'Phase 2' of Any Project

If you want to know what it's like pitching a new media project, just go to the experts:

This South Park clip, a classic in its own right, is a favorite around the MIT Center for Future Civic Media because every single new media project -- ours and those from our Knight News Challenge colleagues -- inevitably hits a wall at "Phase 2."

For South Park's Underpants Gnomes, "Phase 1: Collect underpants" is like every great idea we've all had: It doesn't quite make sense to everyone else yet, but we know it's gold. We also know it totally will lead to reinventing the news industry for the better. It will use technology in a new way, it will draw upon existing competencies in communities, and it will be financially sustainable. Totally. It therefore leads to "Phase 3: Profit."

But the sound of crickets at Phase 2 is the challenge. You have that revolutionary idea, but how can you be sure you're meeting an information need of a particular community before you spend your time and money?

Pony Diving

Rick Borovoy, one of our researchers and a veteran of a few media startups himself, calls Phase 2 "pony diving." What's striking about his explanation of pony diving -- of diving into the muck that you think is evidence of something awesome -- is that the idea plays only a small part. To come out of the muck with a full, finished project, you have to have other things in place. You need a sponsor on board. You need a staff ready to move. You yourself need to be able to communicate a vision of the finished product. (Adam Klawonn discusses these points in his post Top 5 Lessons from the Failure of The Zonie Report.) Phase 2 is all about ripping your own project apart, having disinterested people critique every aspect, and then seeing if you're still excited about it. That's how you prepare for Phase 3.

Be Open to Change

Being well prepared also means being open to, and even expecting, change. Just as no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, no project survives first contact with the real world.

Traditional project management would dictate that Phase 2 has to include contingency planning. You need a stack of notebooks or (here at MIT) a roomful of whiteboards to list the thousands of things that could go wrong, and what you're planning to do to mitigate those risks. (In fact, the News Challenge application process has put increased emphasis on contingency planning.)

But when you're developing new technology, at the top of your contingency plan should simply be a directive to be open to change. You discover new things. You want to incorporate those new things. And if you have a sponsor willing to support experimentation, you can take comfort in the remarkable history of accidental inventions:

  • Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, presumably during a dramatic slow-motion dive, after he dropped nitroglycerin in a pile of sawdust.
  • George Crum invented potato chips, literally out of spite, after a customer kept complaining that his fried potatoes were too thick and soggy.
  • Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber during a failing sales pitch when his floppy rubber fell onto a stove top.
  • Ice cream cones, Play-Doh, Post-Its, penicillin, the pacemaker, and even Viagra were all discovered while trying to invent something else.

And therein lies the lesson for developers of civic media technology facing Phase 2. "Chance favors only the prepared mind," Louis Pasteur said. Or, as Jeff Israely recently put it, the only straight line from point A to point B is where B is failure. Keep at it, but no mater how much you love your idea, be ready to seize -- or propose -- unexpected applications.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl