RSS Discussion with Webgrrl of the Year

I spent a lovely evening listening to Karin H√łegh tell a group of webgrrls this and that about RSS and feeds. (If you have never heard of RSS and feeds before, read the explanation on the BBC site, which I think is rather nice.) The talk (in Danish) covered how to subscribe to feeds, how to make them, how they can be used, and what impact they have on our use of the media in the future. All in all, a suitable topic for someone named Webgrrl of the Year!

A lot of the hard work setting up the feeds is taken care of in WordPress, so theoretically, I don’t have to do a thing on this blog. However, it is interesting to see how they can be tweaked. Examining those possibilities is part of my getting to know WordPress. One place to get some code under your fingernails like a good webgrrl is over at the RSS Advisory Board. Technology at Harvard Law has more information about RSS 2.0.

My take on RSS? I have always bookmarked favorite blogs or websites, but I rarely remembered to visit them on any regular or irregular basis. When did I have the time? I heard about this RSS thing from Lockergnome years ago, but I didn’t want to use some desktop application, which I sensed was a bit restrictive, and I did get stressed about yet another pile of information to absorb. Once I discovered Bloglines, a web-based tool for reading feeds, subscriptions seemed manageable. Of course, I still had to remember to log onto Bloglines! After talking with Allan Jenkins about coping with subscriptions to all these feeds, I realized I needed to clean out the ones that were really unnecessary in my world and then make the reading a part of my morning ritual, along with reading the newspaper (the paper one) with my breakfast. Then I discovered Google Reader. Bloglines is nice, but Google Reader has such a clean interface. . . I had to try out another of the toys coming out of Google’s Labs. For some reason, the clean interface makes me feel less overwhelmed by the lists. I also like the list view. For some reason, I am tricked into thinking I don’t have that much to look at, so I feel I can cope with the items that are listed. Silly, but it works.

All in all, I find that so far, I can keep up with the news or blog updates that interest me. Getting the news delivered in this fashion prevents me from getting too sidetracked with all the many links that are waiting out there to be explored.

And what about accessibility? The American Foundation for the Blind has an article about RSS and people with vision loss. Bloglines is their recommended aggregator (I am not sure that Google Reader existed when they wrote the article.) Read the article for more details.

(And on that note, I would like to say “Happy 1-month anniversary” to the blog!)

And why do you blog?

Take the survey today and let Darren Barefoot know. In fact, we should all be able to learn from it. I just took the survey and was amused that for one of the questions, I could just copy a snippet of my About page for an answer.

Darren is talking about blogging at the Northern Voices conference (for anyone in that corner of Canada at the end of February), which is why he is asking this question. Help him collect some great data! I look forward to seeing the results, but it won’t be in Canada unfortunately. My private jet is in the shop for repairs. . .

Learning Styles – Yours and Your Readers

Sarah O’Keefe, from Scriptorium, posted a link on her blog to a fascinating online quiz from North Carolina State University. The quiz helps you assess your learning-style preference. It is simply to be taken as an indicator of your preferences.

Think about it. How do you approach learning? Do you want to read about a new topic on your own? Do you want to throw yourself into the task and try things out on your own without any prior knowledge of the task? Do you prefer to hop all over the place in a text, or do you do everything in a sequential manner? Are you always looking at the bigger picture, or are you caught up in details?

None of these methods are necessarily wrong. They are simply the way in which we instinctively go about learning. And this knowledge can be an exercise to inspire your technical communication.

For example, if you only use words to describe some task, and you have knowledge that the users prefer visual explanations, you probably have to rethink your use of words. Perhaps drop them altogether and just use pictures or diagrams? Does your means of communication match the needs of the user?

You cannot test the learning styles for all your users in most cases. That would be an impossible task if your technical documentation was aimed at all consumers around the world! However, you can be aware of the different styles and examine your work critically. You make a decision about how to communicate your message and stick with that. But don’t stick with it forever. Evaluate your work on a regular basis. Something I wrote 10 years, which I was very proud of at the time, might embarrass me today. New ideas have come along. My perceptions have changed, and audiences have changed.

Being aware of different learning styles is just one way to help you improve the way you communicate to your users.

On a personal note, I can say that my learning style seems to be rather balanced according to the analysis of my score. Despite being a bookworm, I do prefer visual methods of learning. At the same time, I am discovering that there is a large group of the customer base for the documents that I write who prefer visuals. Theoretically then, I ought to be able to focus easily on this visual concept and find areas of the content that would benefit from more diagrams, and ultimately, make a few more happy customers.

What is your learning style?