NCTech4Good 2015 is upon us!

Facilitating the 2014 NCTech4Good Unconference

Facilitating the 2014 NCTech4Good Unconference

It’s been a little while since I posted about this, but I have been continuing to facilitate NCTech4Good’s hybrid unconference annually since 2011. Tomorrow is our 2015 event!

A lot of people still don’t know what “unconference” means, so I get excited about spreading the gospel. I never fail to have people who looked at me skeptically in the morning come up to me afterward to say how much they loved it and that they will suggest their own organization or community try unconferencing.

Please read my blog post I <3 Unconferences that explains the history and how they work. NCT4G is a simplified hybrid of traditional and “open space” (ie: unconference) event so I will explain our unique methodology here.

Before the conference:

  • Organizers solicit session proposals, invite public voting, and, then hand-curate HALF of the day’s sessions leaving half of the rooms free.
  • Speakers whose sessions are not selected are invited to attend and pitch their session at the beginning of the day.

Kickin #unconference grid at @NCtech4good #unconference. #nct4gAt the conference:

  • The classic “unconference grid” (see right) is pre-populated with cards from sessions that were already picked by the organizers. The grid lets us see which sessions are in which rooms and at what times.
  • Anyone who is interested in convening a session as well as everyone who is already on the grid stands up in front of the group and gives a 30-60 second pitch for their topic. This needn’t be an organized presentation, although Powerpoints are welcome and projectors are available, but can be any form of panel, talk, conversation, demo, Q & A, or even a code sprint!
  • Cards for new sessions are added to The Grid, and then we work out any conflicts or special requirements, and Voila! We have a schedule.

As you can tell, I am very skeptical of the whole idea of messing with unconference process, and I wasn’t completely sure it would work at first. But it has a resounding success for several years in a row and everyone came away satisfied. This year we’ll be doing the same and I expect it to go even better. If you are in central North Carolina, I hope to see you there!

Girl, Develop WordPress!

GDIIn the past year I’ve been getting involved with my local chapter of a wonderful organization called Girl Develop It. They host social/networking events as well as programming classes. At their Code & Coffee I have found help for a sticky Javascript problem, gotten career tips, and helped others learn more about open source software. I took their Git class a few months ago, and now I use it at work every day! So when they asked me to lead a class for GDI RDU I was honored and happy to help.

This weekend I will be teaching a class on advanced WordPress Theming. Fortunately, I am able to utilize the wonderful curriculum developed by Tracy Levesque. So after thoroughly reviewing and slightly updating the slides (and making sure all the software on my own site was up to date, oops) I am ready to go!

If you want to follow along, I’ve posted the presentation here.

A great day at WordCamp Raleigh

I usually enjoy small tech conferences, but I was still surprised at what a good experience I had at WordCamp Raleigh today. It started out on a great note when I checked in and learned that they had t-shirts in women’s sizes as well as the ubiquitous “unisex.” This really made me feel like I belonged, even though I only knew about a half-dozen people there.

Most of the sessions were either a little beyond my abilities or a little elementary for me, but I still got something out of every one. A few times I followed the unconference Rule of Two Feet and moved to a different session. I especially appreciated the speakers that shared URLs for their presentations at the start so that I could follow along easily from my tablet.

Here are some of the great talks I saw today:

  • After hearing about Angular so many times, I was excited to see Angling Angular presented by Will Haley. Not only was this really practical and informative, Will also ate his own dogfood by doing the presentation with a web app that he made with Angular. This was one of those talks that really stretched my knowledge, and was great for me as a front-end developer.
  • I’ll admit that I went to the session on SEO Strategy because there wasn’t anything else really catching my eye in that timeslot. But I actually found a few helpful tips and learned the rationales behind a lot of tactics that I already follow instinctively, like posting frequently, meaningfully linking within a site, and only using pay-per-click for short, time-sensitive campaigns. Most importantly, we learned to Keep Google Happy. 😉
  • I’ve gotten to know Melissa Eggleston recently though the local Girl Develop It meetup. Her talk was filled with interesting facts and actionable lessons about how users really interact with websites. I highly recommend checking out What We Know About Website Users.
  • I almost missed Dee Teal’s incredibly useful talk on WordPress Site Maintenance due to the overly cute session title “Responsible [digital] Home Ownership.” She covered many areas of site security that are really important and so often overlooked.
  • Even better was “Using Data to Power the User Experience” (another poorly-titled session) which was full of smart strategy and practical ways to take advantage of the tracking that Google Analytics is already doing for free.
  • CMB2: The Metabox Strikes Back was all about a tool that I will probably never use, but gave me good context for working with WordPress hooks, and was peppered with enjoyable Star Wars references.
  • The talk on optimizing site perfomance was close to my heart and covered familiar ground, having struggled with a complex Drupal site on Acquia’s servers for years when I worked at HASTAC. However, the presentation was actually only about optimizing server performance, which is something I would rather leave up to the sysadmins, and didn’t have any WordPress-specific advice.
  • Finally, I attended a demonstration of Roots, which is like a theme framework on steroids. This was another tool that I can’t see using any time soon, but learning about how it works provided a lot of insight into advanced theming issues, in which I am certainly very interested.

I’m looking forward to returning to Raleigh tomorrow for another fun day of learning with and from my fellow geeks.

UPDATE: None of the presenters I saw on the second day had made their slides available online, but they claim they are coming soon to the Wordcamp site. 

HASTAC Features

I’m very proud of some work I’ve been doing on the Drupal site that I manage at work.  Here’s a blog post I wrote about some of the newest features:

Today I am excited to officially launch several new features on the HASTAC web site, including Collections, Similar Content, Knowledge Base, and more. I think these additions will do a lot to help people connect with and utilize the rich and deep content of the site.

Collections (beta!)

Digital Badges collectionThe culmination of two months of very hard work, HASTAC Collections is a beta feature of our site that brings together content from across the site in a hand-curated list of posts which can be viewed in a large tiled display (at right), or in a multifunction list view (below left). Collections are not limited to highlighting content, links to other sites are highlighted with yellow buttons. When viewing as a list, users can sort and filter the collection by type of content, topics and tags, and keywords in the title or body.

Digital badges collection listI invite you to check out our two inaugural collections, Digital Badges and MOOC HQ, and look for more soon. The staff are using and testing this feature now, and we hope to be able to expand it to more HASTAC members later this year. (It will require additional programming and may even result in a new module that we can contribute back to the Drupal community. As a result it will take considerable time.)

Visitors can browse our Collections by visiting the Topics landng page.

Similar Content

Similar Content

When looking at any content on the site you will now see a list of posts that may be about similar topics. It is generated by an algorithm based on the title, tags, and topics of the post. (See example at right.) If your post doesn’t seem to be generating revelant content, try adding more tags. These are the best way to tell the site what you are talking about and to properly connect related ideas.

Knowledge Base

The Help pages of our site have been in place since 2011, but don’t get much attention. We have now moved them into a proper knowledge page, and added a Frequently Asked Questions section. You can also use the Contact Support link there to create a ticket when you need personal assistance. This is being combined with our existing site feedback tool (see tab in lower right of your browser) which allows users to suggest and vote on improvements for the site.

Knowledge Base

Other goodies

tag cloud

I have also uncovered or enabled a few other goodies on the site that members might enjoy.

  • Get Random is a button you can find on the Recent Content page (linked to from the Recent Content column on the front page) that will let you trip back through 9 years of HASTAC community content, 20 randomly-selected posts at a time.
  • Two great ways to see what’s happening on HASTAC right now are the Tracker (a list of content sorted by latest comments and newest publication) and the Heartbeat (a stream of activity including new posts, comments, relationships, and users).
  • The site-wide Tag Cloud is exactly what it sounds like!

I hope you enjoy all these new features. If you have more ideas for improving the site (and I know you do) please fill out our Usability Survey (it only takes 5 minutes) and post your suggestions in our Feedback forum. Thanks for your engagement, it’s what makes HASTAC great.

Joi Ito rallies the troops to a maker revolution at MozFest

I just finished attending the fantastic 2012 Mozilla Festival. I got inspired and wrote a blog post about it for work at and cross-posted below.

MozFest might be the first physical event that I’ve attended that used (I’ve seen it used for online events in the past.) It looks like about half of the 1,000 registrants (and all of the speakers) also signed up on the MozFest Lanyrd site, which makes it not the most efficent directory in terms of finding people.

But where Lanyard was truly essential was displaying a grid of the conference sessions. The MozFest site itself did list sessions, but simple as a textual list on one page which made it very difficult to understand the unusual “organic” schedule. Given that sessions were different lengths with a verity of starting and ending times and that there was no printed program available, the temporal grid was the only way to understand what was going on.

But now that the event is over, Lanyrd shines even more with a feature I hadn’t seen before. Any participant can contribute “coverage” of a session to the site in the form of notes, links, pictures, slides, videos and more. We were frequently reminded via Twitter to contribute, and the reult is this page chock-full of great reources with which to follow-up:

Joi Ito rallys fellow weirdos at MozFestIn that coverage, especially recommend checking out the brief and inspiring keynote by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito from Sunday morning, in which he reminded us that we’re all “a bunch of fucking weirdos” for wanting to be makers in any degree, but that makers are changing the world’s culture. He compared his own frustrating experience with formal education to his sister‘s success. Clearly they are both brilliant, but even among siblings great minds don’t always fit into neat academic boxes.

Citing a conversation with the great activist/thinker/lawyer Lawrence Lessig, Ito said “You don’t win by changing the world’s laws. You win by changing the world’s culture.” Whether you think of yourself an activist or not, “Understand that what you are doing is political. It will disrupt the system. Embrace it with your fist in the air” says Ito. Or, to put to put Joi Ito’s 21st century vision in 19th century verse, here’s Arthur O’Shaughnessy (by way of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, I’ll admit):

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Photo credit: Paul Clarke

I stand for a free and open Internet.

A few weeks ago as many of us were patriotically wishing a happy birthday to the United States of America, a coalition of organizations including the ACLU and EFF launched a Declaration of Internet Freedom. I love how simple they kept it, while also encouraging engagement with the statement in a variety of online communities. The declaration is below, in text as well as the obligatory infographic format.

Individuals are invited to sign it at  AccessACLUCREDOEFF or Free Press, and to comment on it at on redditTechdirtCheezburger (yes, really!), Github and Rhizome. They have also invited organizations to sign on. I signed it on behalf of HASTAC, where I work. Have you or will you sign it?

Continue reading “I stand for a free and open Internet.”

Fun with Old Tweets

The brilliant Kellan Elliott-McCrea (my friend and former colleague) has put together a searchable archive of the first year of Twitter posts, and I’ve had some fun quickly going down the rabbit hole to 2006 when I had just gotten married and was enjoying travelling around to DC and other places for my job at NetCentric Campaigns.

I tweeted 170 times in that first year starting in October 2006, about 6 months or so after Twitter was effectively born.

At the risk of being narcissistic, here are a few of my old tweets that I thought were emblematic of that time. One of the most interesting things is how similarly I use Twitter today. I still talk about the same subjects including basketball, music, open source, and politics (but a little less “I had this for lunch” and no more Second Life). I still share links, converse with others, and complain about riding transit. I even live-tweeted a talk by David Weinberger at the 2007 NTC.

Plumbers gone. Rockin’ out to the awesome “Break the Chains” compilation
9:43 AM – 13 Oct 06

Very excited that I have no meetings tonight! What will I do with all this freedom?
4:53 PM – 24 Oct 06 (Something I will probably never tweet again for at least 15 years.)

Just added a custom twitter bug to my blog. I’m so trendy!
3:01 PM – 21 Nov 06

Just gave up on Civimail and Dreamhost ever behaving, and sent a newsletter with Constant Contact instead. A demoralizing day for open source.
4:14 PM – 12 Dec 06

Women’s halftime score: UNC 44, Del St 22. Everything is under control.
2:54 PM – 28 Dec 06  (Already tweeting about basketball!)

Currently obsessed with and Look me up if you’re in there.
10:19 PM – 20 Feb 07

Just had my brain enjoyably adjusted by Cory Doctorow, speaking at UNC.
4:02 PM – 22 Feb 07

@SteveOlson: w00t! Does that mean you are actually going to start Twittering now?
11:01 AM – 6 Mar 07  (My first @ reply.)

Stopped due to freight traffic again! This may be the last time I voluntarily ride Amtrak in the South.
6:54 PM – 16 Mar 07