Effective Website Design

As a part of my digital writing class, I’ve been working on a website for a small business to help create an online presence for that business. Having a website is a promotional staple among businesses, but an effective website design is just as important as the website itself. So that brought me to thinking, what makes an effective website? What design elements successfully draw the audience in? Here are some website building and design principles I’ve come to find are effective:

Uniformity/Repetition

Often, a user stumbles upon a webpage not through the homepage of a site, but through a search engine that takes him directly to that webpage. Having a website that makes use of the same design and layout on each page will help a user more easily navigate through a site and not get lost. For example, in the website for a local cupcake shop called What About Cupcakes, the website makes use of the same pink design, the same fonts, and the same layout to make sure that users know where they are and how to make their way around that site.

Navigation

Navigation is one of the most important principles in website design. Users who get to a specific webpage and browse through different pages in the same site need to know what specific page they are on. Highlighting or underlining the page like, as shown in The Next Web’s site, does a good job of this. As a user, I know that I am on the section that displays articles on Design and Development, and from there, I can easily go to different pages and make my way back to this page.

Links to Social Media

A strong online presence is important for maintaining customer awareness for a business. Often, a business will choose to build a website and create social media accounts to stay connected to their customers. An effective website provides links to these various social media outlet, as shown in the United Way website. The social media links are clearly visible, so upon visiting the website, users are invited to “like” the organization on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to them on YouTube, and grab their RSS feed to stay updated. Having users connected through various outlets, including websites and social media, is an effective way to keep the interest of customers.

Simplicity

Users get turned off by a cluttered website design. Most of the time, simplicity is the best way to go. A simple website design that doesn’t require users to scroll down very much (or worse, scroll horizontally!), is an effective way to grab users’ attention and invite users to explore the website. Usually, a webpage has only a few seconds to draw the user in, so too many gaudy graphics that take long to load, or too many elements on a page that require a user to scroll down to get information, are easy ways to make a user click the “back” button.

Website design must be intuitive, quick, and convenient for the users. For more examples of what NOT to do when designing a webpage, check out http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/. For more tips on creating an effective website design, check out the PSD page that offers a tutorial on good web design.

#Hashtags on #Television: A Merging of Media

Last night, while watching the premiere of the new season of Food Network’s “Chopped: All-Stars,” I noticed something at the top left corner of the television screen. That something turned out to be a Twitter hashtag for the show, #Chopped. This sparked my interest because seeing that hashtag displayed on the screen showed me how much television was embracing new forms of social media to help promote shows, bring fans of the show together, and have a direct channel for viewers’ opinions. Having the #Chopped hashtag in clear sight encouraged viewers of the show to voice their opinions of the chefs while the show was airing, through Twitter. The “Chopped” judges also shared some input by tweeting with the #Chopped hashtag. In addition, Food Network’s own Twitter account, @FoodNetwork, posted tweets about the show, including cooking tips that the chefs shared, so that viewers could apply these tips to their own cooking.

“Chopped” isn’t the only show that’s embraced social media, however. Another show that has become big on Twitter is one of NBC’s hottest shows, “The Voice.” “The Voice” encourages their viewers to share their thoughts and promote the show via the show hashtag, #TheVoice. While the show airs, a small red bar at the bottom of the television screen is displayed, which features the show hashtag in addition to live tweets from show viewers. Through the show hashtag, viewers of “The Voice” can share their opinions on the singers and the judge’s choices on eliminating and keeping singers in the show. Additionally, the judges themselves share opinions on the singers’ performances by tweeting with the show hashtag.

Although it is no secret that many more television shows have begun embracing Twitter to help promote themselves, “The Voice” and “Chopped” are just a few instances that demonstrate this new merging of different media. Rather than being at odds with each other, television and social media are perfect compliments that both promote the television shows and encourage use of the social media site. Twitter is providing a way to connect viewers and fans to the show in a way that television cannot. Through using the Twitter hashtags, viewers do not need to know the television stars personally to be able to share thoughts on a show. Twitter hashtags provide a way to connect both fans and television show stars alike, and with television show hashtags being taken by storm, viewers now have a means to become a much more influential force in their favorite television shows. How cool is it to have a direct channel where everybody can see your own opinions on a show being viewed by millions? Through Twitter, viewers are being connected to their favorite shows in a way that can elicit real responses. With more and more viewers tweeting about television shows and using the show hashtags, more Twitter users are catching on to these shows, thus increasing ratings and getting more people talking about those shows. With more and more shows encouraging their viewers to tweet, devoted fans are adopting Twitter to help support their favorite shows. By taking the best features of these two forms of media, social media and television are creating a unique, innovative way to connect their viewers. These two forms of media are merging, and this merging of media is creating a wide range of possibilities for social media, television, and the fans and users of each medium.

Facebook as a News Source?

This past Thursday, March 29, the Rio Grande Valley faced one of the severest storms it has seen in years. Six inches of rain flooded the streets, and hail the size of golf balls and baseballs damaged cars and buildings alike.

The storm died out eventually, but the aftermath left clear traces of the storm’s presence the previous night.

The hail damage to the KFC building in McAllen.
The hail storm left the roads icy and slick.
Some of the hail that fell during the storm.

Being from the Valley, this especially worried me. I called my parents the night of the storm and learned that thankfully, their side of the Valley did not take the hit as much as other parts. However, my parents did say that their satellite wasn’t working, so they couldn’t watch the news to check for weather updates. The only means of communication they had, besides the phone, was the Internet. My dad was uploading some photos to Facebook while I was on the phone with him that night. Facebook was still up, running, and very active throughout the storm.

Many cable and satellite networks went out that night, so how did Valley residents stay updated on the storm? The local KRGV Weather channel staff kept up with the storm and updated the KRGV Weather Facebook page to keep Valley residents informed. Through the Facebook page, residents were able to learn about which areas would be affected the most, how severe the storm was in various parts of the Valley, and what measures Valley residents could take to keep their families and their homes safe. Additionally, through the KRGV Weather Facebook page, residents later learned that most school districts across the Valley cancelled classes the following day due to the inclement weather.

The KRGV Weather Facebook page did an outstanding job of keeping the Valley residents updated on the storm and helping to ease a lot of fear. Facebook was one of the few modes of communication still effective during the storm, and the local weather channel took advantage and used Facebook to pass on news about the storm. KRGV’s use of their Facebook page shows that social networking can be used in a way that helps others, much like using Twitter helped release Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan. Using Facebook as a means to deliver news directly to citizens is just another way that social networking is quickly becoming an integral part of our lives. During a storm, cable and satellite can be glitchy, but social-networking sites such as Facebook are a dependable, effective way to connect to users across various locations and connect news and weather centers to residents.

What I especially liked about KRGV Weather’s use of their Facebook page was the fact that I could stay updated on the Valley storm as well. Since I am away in college and am not living in the Valley, I don’t have access to the Valley’s local news and weather channel. I do, however, have access to their Facebook page, regardless of where I am, so I was able to stay informed about the storm by continuously checking for updates on the KRGV Weather Facebook page. Through checking the Facebook page, I learned that the area where my parents were was not being affected as much. KRVG Weather’s use of social networking helped relieve a lot of my worries and reassured me that the people I cared about back home were safe. The many uses of social networking are quickly becoming apparent, and sites like Facebook are becoming important and useful to businesses, news and weather channels, and of course, people like you and me.

“We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.” -Pete Cashmore, Founder of Mashable

(Photos courtesy of the KRGV Weather Facebook page.)

Live Blog: Lady Bears Basketball Game, Baylor vs. Georgia Tech

For today’s post, I decided I’d do something a little bit different. As many of you college sports fanatics know, today at 1:30, the Baylor Lady Bears will be playing against Georgia Tech in the third NCAA Championship. As a devoted Baylor Bear, I’ll be watching and live-blogging the game. So, keep your eyes out for updates on this post, and share your thoughts on the game in the comments section! Check out the game updates below.

The Lady Bears put on an excellent performance during today’s game and bring home yet another victory, maintaining their record of having an undefeated season.  Many players shined and made great contributions to their team, including Odyssey Sims, Destiny Williams, and of course, Brittney Griner. Griner scored 35 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks throughout the game. When asked about her memorable two-hand dunk, Griner responded, “[When she passed it], I knew I was going to dunk it…I wanted to get a two-hand dunk.” Although the Georgia Tech scored 22 points in the last 8 minutes and kept all their starting players on the floor, Coach Kim Mulkey said she stood by her decision to give her starting players some rest on the bench and give other players a chance on the floor. Baylor nonetheless took home a momentous win, putting them on the path to another NCAA Championship game. During today’s game, the Lady Bears demonstrated an outstanding sense of team unity, Baylor pride, and passion for the sport they love, and in the end, their teamwork was reflected in the game outcome. Today is a great day for the Baylor nation, as we have a perfect season so far and are well on our way to making Lady Bear history. Will the Lady Bears claim the Final NCAA Championship victory? That remains to be seen, but with their stellar record and incredible players, the outcome is looking bright. Sic ’em!

3:30 pm – Baylor wins!!! Score is 83-68. Baylor is headed to the Elite Eight against Tennessee.

3:28 pm – Georgia Tech makes free throw, now at 66 points.

3:27 pm – Sydney Wallace of GT scores. GT at 64 points. Baylor makes 3-pointer. 83-64.

3:24 pm – Baylor makes one out of two free throws. 81-56. Georgia Tech scores, now with 59 points.

3:23 pm – Marshall of GT makes a double-double. Baylor in the lead with 80-56.

3:22 pm – Baylor makes two free throws.

3:21 pm – Brooklyn Pope at free throw line, makes first free throw, misses second free throw.

3:17 pm – Georgia Tech scores again, 77-54.

3:16 pm – Georgia Tech scores, score is now 77-51.

3:12 pm – Georgia Tech gets rebound after Baylor misses shot. Griner has the ball; Griner DUNKS!!! She is only the second player to have two NCAA Tournament dunks. Baylor in the lead, 77-46.

3:10 pm – 8 minutes, 21 seconds left in game. Brittney Griner makes block against GT. Commentator: Everyone on Baylor team understands their roles and plays them to the best of their ability, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. Griner at 33 points.

3:09 pm – Baylor scores, 72-46.

3:05 pm – Brooklyn Pope makes one free throw, misses second free throw. Commentator: Baylor is trying to match what they did in 2005, winning an NCAA Championship.

3:04 pm – Commentator: Baylor has done a terrific job handling the pressure.

3:03 pm – Georgia Tech misses both free throws. Baylor in the lead with 65-42.

3:02 pm – Goodlett makes fourth foul, now at bench. Griner makes free throw.

2:58 pm – Sasha Goodlett of Georgia Tech has ball, misses shot.

2:57 pm – Wallace has scored 21 points, 3rd consecutive game where she has scored over 20 points. Wallace is still working to keep the competition up. Griner scores, spins baseline. Griner is averaging over 20 points per game.

2:56 pm – Griner now has made 27 points, Baylor at 63-38

2:55 pm – Griner has made 25 points, 10 rebounds, another double-double for Griner

2:52 pm – Another triple for Sydney Wallace; GT needs to find a way to get a couple of defensive stops to top Baylor. Coach Kim Mulkey calls time out, asking for a foul. Sydney has scored 19 points for Georgia Tech so far. GT is behind, but still fighting for a victory.

2:51 pm – Williams has made 9 out of 10 shots, almost at her career-high. Griner scores, Baylor up 57-33

2:46 pm – Odyssey Sims (Baylor) scores a 3-pointer, Baylor in the lead 53-31. Lady Bears are dominating Georgia Tech on the court.

2:45 pm – Williams has scored a total of 18 points so far. Commentator: As the season has progressed, Williams has continued to develop offensively.

2:42 pm – Hayden (Baylor) gets the steal, passes to Sims, Sims misses, Griner scores

2:41 pm – 2nd half of game resumes, Georgia Tech has the ball. Wallace of GT scores.

2:40 pm – Commentator: Griner is such a dominating presence, too tough for Georgia Tech to handle.

2:28 pm – In just the halftime, Williams has scored a game-high of 16 points, Brittney Griner has scored 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists. Baylor was out of rhythm for the first few minutes of the game, but once the players started passing the ball to Griner, they seemed to get back in it. Georgia Tech made 13 turnovers. So far, the leading scorer has been Destiny Williams, with Brittney Griner as the leading rebounder. For Georgia Tech, the leading scorer has been Sydney Wallace, scoring 11 points, with Marshall as the leading rebounder with 5 rebounds. Free throw percentage for Baylor so far is 71.4%, field goal percentage is 53.5%. For Georgia Tech, free throw percentage is 100%; field goal percentage is 30%.

Brittney Griner has been a standout player throughout the first half of the game. She has shown a range of skills, including point guard skills, rebounds, and blocks. The Lady Bears have been giving a strong performance throughout the first half of the game, and very likely, they are on their way to another victory and a near-perfect season.

2:23 pm – Destiny Williams: “Our guards did a good job.” Halftime, Baylor in the lead 42-26.

2:22 pm – Sims misses shot, Baylor shooting 55% in first half of game

2:19 pm – Commentator: “Odyssey Sims has set the tone for today’s game on the defensive end.”

2:18 pm – Makenzie Robertson (Baylor) alleyoop to Griner, Griner scores

2:16 pm – Griner blocks against Georgia Tech

2:14 pm – Georgia Tech fouls against Griner, Griner makes free throw

2:10 pm – Georgia Tech scores, score is 34-18

2:07 pm – Baylor up, 34-14, time out called by Coach Kim Mulkey

2:05 pm – two Baylor players have already scored double figures, pass to Williams, Brittney Griner shows point guard skills

2:01 pm – Georgia Tech’s Wallace misses shot

2:00 pm – Commentators: Brittney Griner got a chance to practice with some of the best players in the world this summer, helped her grow since her freshman year

1:59 pm – Brittney Griner makes two free throws

1:58 pm – Georgia Tech scores first 2 points in the paint

1:56 pm – Baylor in the lead, 26-10

1:53 pm – Second media timeout, Lady Bears up 23-10

1:51 pm – Destiny Williams (Baylor) steals and scores a lay-up

1: 50 pm – Odyssey Sims (Baylor) makes first free throw, misses second, Baylor gets offensive rebound

1:49 pm – Baylor up 18-10

1:47 pm – Griner scores again, spin over right shoulder, Baylor up 6 to Georgia Tech

1:46 pm – Griner scores two off the glass

1:42 pm – 1st media timeout, Baylor and Georgia Tech tied at 10

1:39 pm – Sydney Wallace of Georgia Tech scores

1:37 pm – Marshall (Georgia Tech) makes two free throws, Jordan Madden (Baylor) misses shot

1:34 pm – Griner assists to Destiny Williams

1:33 pm – Griner against Georgia Tech point guard, Griner draws a foul, makes two free throws

1:30 pm – Commentator, “Brittney Griner is the most recognizable name in Women’s basketball right now.”

1:28 pm – Georgia Tech Coach interviewed, shares her thoughts on how to block Brittney Griner (Baylor), “I think the only person who can stop Brittney Griner is Brittney Griner…just as good on the defense.” Outside shooting will be a key for Georgia Tech today.

PSA Reflection: The Media’s Influence on Girls’ Body Image

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and between the time I posted my last blog post and now, I have been working on a video public service announcement. It’s my first time shooting a public service announcement (PSA), so it has been a really interesting, enjoyable learning experience. Composing the PSA has really taught me to use each mode of composition to the best of its ability–each mode of composition has unique properties that help communicate a message, and all these properties combined make for a very rich, enlightening, and effective PSA.

The topic of my PSA is the media’s effect on girls’ body image. I chose this topic because as a female living in an age dominated by the media, Internet, and celebrities, I understand the pressure faced by many women and young girls to look a certain way. Self-esteem and body image are long-standing topics, especially among females, and it is important to address these issues and teach women and girls that beauty cannot be defined by the media. As I did research, I discovered that one of the reasons young girls were developing negative self-esteem was because of the way their mothers viewed beauty. Mothers are a tremendous influence on their daughters; a girl’s view on beauty is largely influenced by the way her mother views beauty. Shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras depict the negative consequences on daughters when a mother has an unhealthy, obsessive attitude towards beauty. However, if a woman has a healthy body image and a healthy view on beauty (such as viewing beauty as something more than looks), this positive attitude is adopted by their daughters. Many existing PSAs on body image addressed the effects and the dangers of trying to emulate the media’s idea of beauty but did not directly address the cause and what could be done to help girls develop a positive body image. Targeting my PSA toward mothers and daughters would be one way to address the causes of negative body image. The media does not only affect young girls–it affects women, so it is important that women adopt a healthy attitude towards beauty, which in turn will influence young girls.

When I began writing the script, I wanted to include both the negative aspects of the media’s influence on body image, as well as what women, specifically mothers, could do to help young girls develop a healthy body image. I opened with the statement, “The media is everywhere” to show how the media is so pervasive and tells women everywhere that beauty is defined by being dangerously thin or having a Barbie-like body. The first draft of the script was very long, so the main challenge in writing the script was making every word count. I needed to keep my PSA under a minute and a half, so the script went through a lot of editing. I ended up keeping the bare essentials of my message–the lines in the script that got to the heart of my message. This included the statistics of women and young girls who faced self-esteem issues and eating disorders, the consequences that arise when mothers have a negative body image, and the positive effects on young girls when mothers have a healthy idea of beauty. Editing and condensing the script was a great way to help me learn to write more concisely. Having to communicate a message in just a few words made me choose my words more carefully and forced me to make sure each word contributed to the overall message of my PSA. This technique of writing concisely is something that I can apply to any type of writing I do. Clear, concise writing is an important skill to have, and writing and editing my PSA script helped me further cultivate that skill.

Choosing content for my PSA also proved challenging. I chose to make a video PSA because I thought it would best communicate my message. The message of my PSA was positive, so I wanted the visual content to reflect that. In my first draft of the PSA, I included video shots of young women taking diet pills, weighing themselves, and measuring their waists, to depict the measures girls take to look the way the media tells them to. However, when I revised my PSA, I wanted the video shots to be more cohesive and to show the effects of changing one’s body image as well.  In the end, I chose to include girls of various ages, from young adult women to young girls, holding signs that read their own insecurities and perception of their appearance based on the media’s definition of beauty. As my script discussed the positive effects of mothers having a healthy body image, the visual content depicted these same girls tearing their signs.  I thought that the general mood created by these shots helped to strengthen the message being read by the narrator.

Another challenge I faced when composing the shots was portraying “true beauty,” because it is hard to pinpoint what true beauty is. True beauty means something different to each woman, so I felt that the best way to depict “true beauty” was to have different girls holding signs that celebrated their own beauty, saying things like, “I am unique,” “I am smart,” or “I am beautiful.” Although true beauty is hard to define, it is universally known that beauty is about loving oneself. This challenge really made me think about a universal way to portray true beauty that would speak to many women. I think that the process of planning, recording, and editing my video shots really showed me how to best communicate using this mode of composition. It made me think about the best way to use video images that would not only communicate the message of my PSA but also enhance the other modes of composition, such as the narration.

When it came to the audio for my PSA, the main challenge was cutting and condensing the recording to keep it at a minute and a half. As I familiarized myself with Audacity, I learned how to cut the recording and keep the recording smooth, and I learned how to apply effects that helped speed up the recording. Being familiar with Audacity and having a clear idea of what I wanted the audio to sound like really helped me make the most out of this mode of composition.

Overall, I learned a great deal throughout the process of composing my PSA. The peer review was very helpful, as it allowed me to address issues within my PSA that I may have overlooked. In addition, it helped me come up with solutions to problems within my PSA that I did not know how to address. Prior to composing my PSA, I was mainly used to composing through the written word. The composing process taught me how to take the best aspects of each mode of composition and combine them in a way that best communicates my message.

Social Media Brings About #SocialChange

Seeing as my last few posts have been mainly about e-books and digital publishing, I decided it was high time to shift gears and explore other aspects of digital writing. That isn’t to say I’ll stop posting about e-books and digital publishing–the field of digital publishing is so multifaceted and ever-changing, that it’s impossible for a bibliophile like me to ever stop reading and writing about that. But for today, a certain trending topic on Twitter has recently caught my attention. Most of us are very familiar with Twitter. We use it on a daily basis, tweeting about subjects ranging from #homework to #ladygaga. But perhaps most of us haven’t thought of Twitter as a vehicle for bringing about social change, as a way to bring attention to social issues.

This is exactly what happened in the case of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who was accused of being a part of the Islamic Jihad militant group and was taken prisoner in Israel. Upon being arrested, Adnan went on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, which was based on Israel’s controversial policy of detaining suspected Palestinian militants for long periods on end, with no charges against them. Adnan was on hunger strike for over two months, until it was finally agreed to have him released on April 17.

But what brought about this decision? A couple of weeks ago, the case of Khader Adnan was relatively obscure and had not been covered by mainstream media, such as news channels. In an effort to bring this story much-needed attention, a group of cyber activists decided to resort to social media. They set up Twitter hashtags and tweeted at least once a day using those hashtags, in the hopes of having a hashtag become a trending topic on Twitter. The hashtags included the prisoner’s name, #KhaderAdnan, and other phrases such as #respect4Khader, #dying2live, and #HungerStrikingfor65Days. Eventually, the activist group did, indeed, achieve their goal, with the hashtag #KhaderAdnan becoming a trending topic on Twitter. The trending topic inevitably caught the media’s attention and triggered the whirlwind of coverage, and subsequently, the decision to release Adnan.

Adnan’s story is just one example of the capacity for social media to bring about social change. Social media has many purposes, and while we may mainly use social media tools such as Twitter to post vintage photos of our dog or tweet about what a rough day we’re having, social media has a substantial role to play in bringing attention to issues we are passionate about. Moreover, we use writing to bring attention to these issues. Social media tools encourage the spread of ideas through the written word (sometimes combined with other media)–except that that written word reaches a much larger crowd. Social media is much more than an outlet for posting our arbitrary thoughts or talking about what we’re doing–it’s an outlet for voicing our opinions on things that matter to us. Social media has an ability to connect users from various locations and time zones and allow these users to have one big, unique conversation (or, a book club–see my “A Perfect Marriage: Social Media and Books” post below), and we have the means to take advantage of this ability and use it to shed light on topics we feel deserve attention. Tools like Twitter, although viewed by some as a mere website people use to idle their time away, is something that, when used for social change, can yield real results. This is one of several stories where social media users have used social media tools to enact change. It’s time we looked at social media as a means to have our voices heard, as a tool that plays a substantial role in society.

“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.” –Mark Zuckerberg

E-books: The End of the Print Book?

As some of you may already know, these past few weeks I have been working on a research paper exploring e-books, their history, their characteristics, and their effects on the book industry. As I delved more into the subject and planned out my paper, it slowly took shape, and the final product ended up doing many different things. To give the reader a bit of a background into my topic of discussion, I begin with a definition of e-books and a brief overview of their characteristics. I then introduce the main questions my paper aims to answer: Will the advent of the e-book bring about the end of the print book? How does the e-book affect the book industry?

My paper provides a short history of the e-book, as well as an overview of the technologies used to produce and read e-books. Interestingly enough, the e-book began with Michael Hart, who founded Project Gutenberg, a project aimed to make collections of literary works available to readers at no cost. Project Gutenberg’s ebooks can be found on the Project Gutenberg website. They are available for download under various formats, depending on what format is compatible with the reader’s device. The first text converted to an e-book was the Declaration of Independence, which Hart digitized using ASCII (pronounced “askee”), an encoding scheme based on the English alphabet that uses letter to represent numbers and reads as text on a computer screen. Succeeding the first e-book were many other innovations that strove to digitize texts and provide digital supplements for print texts, such as the CD-ROM. My paper subsequently discussed the benefits of e-books and the challenges and potential implications accompanying a full conversion to digitized texts and complete separation from print texts.

Rhetorical strategies I used in my paper included providing a brief background of e-books before presenting the questions my paper sought to answer. I think this enhanced my ethos as a writer and benefitted the reader, because, armed with a general knowledge of my paper topic, the reader would be more prepared to follow the questions I pose and my answers to these questions based on my research. In order to maintain objectivity and keep the paper informative rather than argumentative, I include the limitations and challenges of e-books in addition to the benefits. E-books provide many advantages to readers, including convenience and portability, but they also come with limitations, both to readers and to publishers. Providing both explanations of the benefits and the limitations provides the reader with a thorough knowledge of the pros and cons and contributes to making the reader informed on the topic of e-books.

Ultimately, I hope that readers of my paper walk away with a renewed, enhanced knowledge of e-books. E-books are a burgeoning trend among readers (that have been making multiple appearances in the hands of readers in little sidewalk coffee shops), so it is important that potential buyers of e-readers are informed of the pros and cons of purchasing books electronically. There are many assumptions that e-books signal the end of the print book, or that e-books are more cost-efficient for readers, or that e-books are more environmentally friendly. While these are not untrue, each reader has their own preferences, and it is important for readers to know whether an e-book or a print book is a better fit. I hope this paper helps readers determine that.

“It seems to me that anyone whose library consists of a Kindle lying on a table is some sort of bloodless nerd.” –Penelope Lively

A Perfect Marriage: Social Media and Books

Looking back at my title, I see how it can be confusing at first, especially to those who only read the title but don’t read the accompanying blog post. However, I still stand by my cheesy title, because I think it encompasses exactly the event that spurs the writing of this post.

Continuing my exploration on digital media and its effect on the publishing industry, I’ve come across a really interesting story that shows how traditional publishing companies can use these new digital technologies to their advantage.

We all know that Twitter and Facebook have the ability to bring users with common interests together, regardless of location or time zone. The Superbowl was a perfect example, as stated by my fellow writer and digital writing classmate, Alison. Throughout the game, people posted live tweets to keep users updated. (You can read more about social media during the Superbowl on Alison’s post, here.) Twitter brings together people from various places, who have the means to hold a conversation across these time and space barriers, using Twitter hashtags, retweeting, and responding directly to tweets. But now, this unique sort of conversation that Twitter allows users to have is being taken to a whole new level, by none other than the book publishing giant, Penguin Group.

Penguin Group has taken to starting a book club on Twitter, using the hashtag #readpenguin to keep readers connected. Each month, Penguin will announce a book on their Twitter account and invite readers to share their thoughts via the #readpenguin hashtag. At the end of each month, readers will have a chance to hold a conversation with the book’s author, over Twitter. It’s basically a virtual book club. But this time, the book’s author is a guest at the book club. How cool is that?

This book club, in my opinion, really is the perfect marriage between new media and traditional media, between social media and print media. Publishing companies have jumped on the digital bandwagon, embracing the new opportunities that social and digital media provides. Twitter, and other digital and social media, gives publishing companies the chance to reach a much broader, larger audience. Through social media, publishing houses are able to hold book clubs that aren’t limited to a single location and a single time–users across various locations can be a part of the book club and can interact with members of the book club at any moment. Word-of-mouth is taken to a completely different degree, as readers’ thoughts on a book can spread much more quickly and can be received much more effectively. This combination of social media and books can also encourage others to join the book club and read. This new kind of book club is proof that publishing industries aren’t being beaten into obscurity by the advent of digital books and digital media. On the contrary, the best qualities of digital media are augmenting the publishing industry and, quite possibly, encouraging literacy by bridging the gap between social media and books. Perhaps the number of literary devotees (myself included) will grow, as publishing companies begin to embrace digital media and its advantages.

Nota bene: For anyone who is interested in joining Penguin’s book club, you can follow Penguin Group on Twitter via @penguinusa. The book for this month is called The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” –Henry David Thoreau

Want to be published? There’s an app for that.

Lately, I’ve been doing research on a topic that has recently captivated my interest: digital publishing. I love books, and digital publishing is something I want to learn more about, especially because of its effects on the publishing industry. I am in the process of writing a research paper on digital publishing for my digital writing class, and I’ve found some really interesting articles regarding the latest developments in digital publishing.

For example, Apple has produced an app, called the iBook Author App, that allows users to create their own customized textbooks and publish them through iBooks. The app was originally intended for teachers and educators as a way for them to create their own educational materials for students, but this app can also be used for other purposes. The app contains features such as templates, much like the themes found on WordPress, or design templates found on Microsoft PowerPoint, that provide a ready-made look for the book, with designated areas for text and/or graphics. The app was designed with a multimedia interface in mind. Not only do writers have the options of adding graphics to their books; they can also add widgets, including video, interactive 3D graphics, and interactive photo galleries. Moreover, the app was also designed with readers with disabilities in mind, featuring widgets that allow readers with vision impairments to be able to use the iBook as well.

Template feature for the iBook Author App

This app has truly re-defined the concept of the book and the way a book presents its information. However, with this new advancement in self-publishing, what does this mean for professional authors? As an intern at a publishing company, I have seen just how long and convoluted the process is for an author to publish a book. Merely having an idea for a book does not automatically convince publishers–publishers need various documents such as proposals and abstracts to see exactly what the author’s intention for the book is. Then, the proposal goes through an evaluation process to see if it will be successful. If a proposal gets approved, the author subsequently submits a manuscript, which then gets edited, and usually, the final draft of the manuscript is very different from the original first draft.

On the other hand, with the iBook Author app, the writer has complete control over how he or she chooses to present, argue, and write the book. The writer does not need to go through the process of getting approved for publishing, and he or she does not need to submit a manuscript to be edited. This app allows the author to be not only the writer, but also the designer, the editor, and the publisher. In traditional publishing, a production department is in charge of making a manuscript look like a book, choosing the book covers, etc. However, this app gives the author control over all of that. How will an app like this affect publishing companies, where separate departments oversee different aspects of a book? Will it affect jobs in these different departments, and in the industry in general? Will this lead to a difference in quality when it comes to books, because virtually anyone who downloads the app can publish?

However, there are some catches. As stated in this article, Apple’s license agreement states that if an author produces materials through iBooks and distributes them with charge, that work can only be distributed under Apple, and not anywhere else. Apple owns the rights to materials created through iBooks, but the author reserves rights to any materials created independently and not through the iBooks author app. Although the app provides a means for writers to self-publish, and even earn revenue from it, it has limitations that publishing companies do not have, such as its accessibility. Users who want to access a work created through iBooks need to have an Apple device, or a means to view the book through iBooks–unlike an e-book that can be viewed online, or even a print book, that can be purchased by anyone.

The iBook Author app opens up many new possibilities for those looking to publish, but as of right now, it looks like publishing companies are here to stay.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” –Rene Descartes