When you can’t traipse around the United States to travel to two months of journalism conferences, what do you do? This fall, I listened in via Twitter and collected the advice that I found. I attended one of these conferences in person as well.

Here are some of the best morsels of information that I gleaned from this fall’s harvest of journalism conference tweets. Enjoy!

Wheat harvestThese tweets are from the following conferences:

#editors3D – American Society of Newspaper Editors

#SEJ2015 – Society of Environmental Journalists

#SciWri15 – National Association of Science Writers

#ONA15 – Online News Association

#LION15 – Local Independent Online News

#NENPA2015 – New England Newspaper and Press Association

Overview

Surround yourself with friends in the industry. It can really help you. #ONA15failfest #ONA15
.@cephillips‘s @StanfordJourn class, along w/ @BallState & @SJSU, produced a site covering #Editors3d this weekend: http://bit.ly/1M27zB1

The (very unofficial) blog of ONA15. Blog: bit.ly/ONA15_LA #ONA15

Takeaways from the Reshaping Social Newsgathering panel w @acarvin, @mjenkins, and @Niketa Blog: bit.ly/ONA15_LA #ona15

#ONA15 Said it before and will say again, @ONAConf‘s commitment to represent women, LGBT and people of colour is exemplary. Thank you.

Brands

MT @tomlevenson: RT @swannoelle: It is editors’ perception of who you are as a writer that determines the assignments you get.

RT @cbquist: “How writers see themselves may not be the way that the rest of the world sees them. “ @scicurious #Bwordsciwri #sciwri15

RT @swannoelle: Your narrative style can be a brand that is applied to a variety of beats. #Bwordsciwri #sciwri15

Newsroom Management

MT @wearehearken: Resources galore for community engagement strategies! From my #ONAcomm session http://bit.ly/ona-engage

Here’s @pewresearch‘s report about online harassment: pewrsr.ch/1rfpq7 http://ow.ly/TB0F5V #ONA15

RT @rosybattaglia: RT @ONA: .@Poynter on our new Build Your Own Ethics tool: http://bit.ly/1G5Auw5  #ONAethics #ONA15

Think about email newsletter as a product. Who is your audience? What problem are you trying to solve? –@millie @gregory #ONA15

Praise your writers. That’s a parenting technique and an editing technique. And pay ’em well. @robinlloyd99 #sciwri15 #editing2015

RT @itsren: Finding funders is like dating — you just need to find the right people who will sit down and connect with you. #LION15

RT @itsren: If you can’t beat your competitors to the punch, try to be more comprehensive and credible. There’s no value to the same junk.

Accuracy and truth suffers when [your] media relies on freelancers and inexperienced journalists and competes with viral news. #editors3D

Media startup founders listen up: “Do just one thing really well” says @farano #editors3D

RT @lionpubs: Partner to get your journalism spread to a bigger audience, improve branding and reach funders, says @LyleMuller #lion15

RT @palewire: ICYMI: Today we released this new free and open source @WordPress tool for news archiving at #ONA15. Talk: http://bit.ly/wordpress-memento-talk … Code: http://pastpages.github.io/wordpress-memento-plugin/ …

Love this insight from @tseelig : One of most powerful things you can do is question the questions you ask. #editors3D

Hey, millennials read, care, pay for news. Yet another prezo tells us what we better already know @tbr1 #editors3D

Editors

@tseelig says you need to inspire others to innovate. Editor challenge is to inspire trained skeptics — journos. #editors3D

“Long stories are still read, people.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

“You have to think of how your readers use your information.” – DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

“Many of these editors are still in the past.” – Mario Garcia #NENPA2015

“The era of at-a-glance journalism has arrived.” – Mario Garcia #NENPA2015

A good editor suggests wording / phrasing but leaves it up to the writer to make the changes. #sciwri15

.@laurahelmuth: As editor, be aware of the power balance. #sciwri15 #editing2015

To be an editor, you have to have a high tolerance for meetings @laurahelmuth #sciwri15

When The New York Times introduced bulleted lists in 2015, “I thought it was a moment to celebrate.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

Um, love. People like long stories via @tbr1 #editors3D #readtoyourkids

“Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s bad for you.” – @koci on mini-narratives #editors3D #thinktofu

RT @aconnersimons: Make sure writers still feel in control of their words, says @areesesantafe. #sciwri15 #editing2015

RT @aconnersimons: .@robinlloyd99: journalists often don’t realize how helpful it is to write a story outline. #sciwri15 #editing2015

RT @bobfinn: .@JamieShreeve: Can’t expect writers to write the story you would have written.#editing2015 #sciwri15

RT @ashleybraun: Editors should help the writers rediscover the joy of the story that first inspired it, says @laurahelmuth #sciwri15

MT @KashaPatel: On science editing: “You have to know when to impose your vision on the story and when to back off” –@JamieShreeve

RT @bradscriber: RT @bobfinn: .@laurahelmuth: As an editor you have a huge responsibility not to let a writer embarrass himself/herself.

Diversity

If your community is getting browner & your newsroom is getting whiter your bottom line will get redder. @RussContreras to #editors3D #ASNE

The touchstone of diversity training in newsrooms is Dori Maynard’s Fault Lines. Required reading for journos mije.org/faultlines #ona15

Of about 2200 members of @ScienceWriters, 89% are white. We must be active on seeking diversity. #sciwriwomen  #sciwri15

Q: How often are women used as sources in journalism? A: not often enough #sexisminsciwri #sciwri2015

“Diversity is the only way for us to be competitive right now,” @mitrakalita tells newspaper orgs @ #editors3D

.@drmariogarcia: Millennials need to mentor their bosses. #nenpa2015 @nenpa

.@mitrakalita: Don’t let anyone be the only one talking about diversity in hiring in your newsroom. #editors3D

MT @ejwillingham: Says @deborahblum: “monoculture isn’t good for anything and that includes the profession of journalism”

RT @juliebastuk: RT @ejwillingham: The Freelance Writer Bill of Rights is here: http://sciencewritingsummit.org/freelance-writer-bill-of-rights/ … #sciwriwomen #sciwri15

MT @apoorva_nyc: RT @NidhiSubs: For internships: Hire outside of your immediate pool. Contact @culturedish @WritersofColor etc to advertise

MT @fkwang: RT @DrMRFrancis: .@apoorva_nyc : don’t underpay interns. That alone opens the pool to far more applicants. #sciwri15

MT @DrMRFrancis: .@apoorva_nyc : trade magazines are much friendlier to non-white writers. Pipeline privileges white people. #sciwri15

Another piece of advice for editors: Bring up diversity all the time. @mitrakalita speaking to #editors3D

RT @sciencesense: People fear the things they don’t understand– Mark Johnson #sciwri15

Reporters

RT @preetinmalani: RT @laurahelmuth: Re: #sciwri15 #editing2015: Are You a Writer or an Editor? Part I: The Writers http://www.theopennotebook.com/2013/01/15/should-you-be-a-writer-or-an-editor-part-i-the-writers/ …

MT @science_eye: RT @bradscriber: Here’s the Open Notebook post, How Not to Pitch, that @robinlloyd99 mentioned http://bit.ly/1jVN6kN

Also not brought up yet: What about COIs stemming from unpaid activism? #sciwri15

StrawberriesWe’re honored to have won an #ona15 award for our investigation on the Dark Side of the Strawberry! Read it here: revealnews.org/article/califo…

RT @DrMRFrancis: No shame in wanting to be paid reasonable money for doing quality work. Repeat this, loudly, over and over. #sciwri15

#Sciencewriters must get out of usual environment/office; shoe leather reporting required – @marynmck #otherstories

MT @JoAnnaScience: Here’s an essay by @SorenWheeler about keeping humor in your science writing http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2012/06/05/guest-post-make-me-feel-something-please/ …

MT @arconklin: Burkhard Bilger types his sources’ responses while interviewing, leading to awkward pauses and quote gold. #sciwri1

RT @scienceengage: You can write the absurd but find its significance, and you can write about something serious and make it absurd

On how to interview: Be real with subjects, like w/friends in a bar. Model your own authenticity to elicit theirs. #HumorNASW15  #sciwri15

MT @alizardx: RT @JoAnnaScience: “humor works when it humanizes, when it levels the playing field,”- @SorenWheeler #sciwri15 #HumorNASW15

RT @scienceengage: You can be funny and respectful towards your subject #sciwri15

RT @marcabrahams: RT @AjSolliday: From @MarcAbrahams: Describe the unexpected clearly. It’s funny. #HumorNASW15 #sciwri15

RT @lillianhwang: RT @ErinPodolak: Reporting is an “opportunity to engage with people’s complexity” says @marynmck #sciwri15

“These are the best of times to be a storyteller.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

MT @LizDrogeYoung: Women far less likely to be expert scientist sources in stories #sciwriwomen

RT @koriosc: RT @laurenkwolf: Fact checking is not a punishment. It’s protecting your work–Brad Scriber #sciwri15

RT @managewski: Acknowledge that you’re a journalist, but also a person. – @kimfox #ONA15 #ONA15failfest

Technology and Multimedia

In @saraquinn research, audience spend 50% more time with professional images over amateur images. #editors3D

Another great #ONA15 find: a free guide for verifying photos and videos by  @firstdraftnews medium.com/1st-draft/are-…

How to handle the haters on social: kill ’em with kindness #ONA15

You can get the 2016 edition of our annual trends report here: https://goo.gl/DDsulZ  #ona15

More on bots in the newsroom – “Should journalists worry?” bit.ly/1gYCmAh @ONANewsroom #ONA15

“I’m surprised at the number of people in newsrooms who do not have a Twitter account.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

RT @millie: If you read one thing about push notifications, read @lauraelizdavis‘s very smart piece http://www.buzzfeed.com/lauradavis/hope-you-appreciate-this#.atkjY6Vgn … #ona15

RT @DavidHo: From #50Apps at #ONA15 – Our technology is meaningless without the humanity that gives it purpose.

With the advent of mobile, “computers are going the way of print.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

Use images to “get the reader into the story.” – @DrMarioRGarcia #NENPA2015

.@drmariogarcia: 1/3 of news team will not get on digital train. #nenpa2015 @nenpa

MT @AnnaNowo: .@abexlumberg on podcast funding: team up with people as creative at the business side as you are creative at the journalism

“Social media is not a broadcast platform.” – @NoahBombard #NENPA2015

Science Journalism

MT @kari_choi: RT @ensiamedia: New to science writing? Interested in environmental journalism? Check out Ensia’s mentor program (we pay!)

Imp’t from @JoelAchenbach: Journalists need to be aware of hyping findings, be knowledgeable about reproducibility in science #editors3D

#sciwri15 So many political issues have become so tribalized that it’s a waste of time to talk facts #globalwarming

In fight against poverty, “the truth is often uncomfortable.” Our job as science writers: to seek the truth without fear or favor #sciwri15

RT #VJin140: #sciwri15 award for #longform science reporting goes to #insideclimate team: insideclimatenews.org/fracking-eagle… https://t.co/qwE

Love this wonk translation from @susangoldberg: “how to fix it and how to live with it” – not “climate mitigation & adaptation” #editors3d

Thank you. “We need more political reporters who are comfortable with science reporting.” @MichaelOreskes #editors3D

Thx @CleoPaskal for shout-out for @NewSecurityBeat! #sej2015 Also see @CntrClimSec #climatesecurity 101 http://bit.ly/1R2KcoJ

@burkese Q&A on nexus of energy, natl security, & climate & its impact on the armed services http://ow.ly/TekuF  #SEJ2015

RT @00sarrett: RT @fenellasaunders: #sciwri15 data journ w @leHotz: lidar map of NYC for solar power potential.

Can we expect environmental journalists to connect the dots between biodiversity and climate change? #SEJ2015 @1earthok

LOL. RT @leiashotfirst: RT @raminskibba: Aaronson: “Black holes are like Vegas: what happens there, stays there!” #sciwri15 #blackholefail

ICYMI: @erikvance on ethical quandaries for science writers – good followup to the debate at #sciwri15 via @TheLWON: http://ow.ly/TB0F5

RT @lizdrogeyoung: RT @susannakohler: Hedge words = the error bars of science writing. #factcheck #sciwri15

Yesterday, someone asked me what unmet needs I see most often at nonprofit organizations. I responded that I’d like to see nonprofits leverage data more effectively.

Organizations like Hacks/Hackers Boston know the wealth of information that data-oriented journalists can find by digging through the Internet. From the Sunlight Foundation‘s forthcoming website on how politicians vote to the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch project, there are many resources available online which can make nonprofits’ work easier.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston hosted an event earlier this year called Data Day. Citizens and nonprofits learned how to use data – for example, information from the Boston Indicators Project and MetroBoston DataCommon – to find out what is happening in their neighborhoods.

In general, I see many nonprofits lack awareness of how to tap into these resources and find out the dirt on pollution, income, crime, violence, health, and other social issues. Now that news organizations are understaffed, it’s becoming even more important for nonprofits to hire staff or contractors who can step in, understand the problems, and use computer-assisted reporting skills to find the answers to these socially important questions.

I am excited to see that the Knight Foundation has funded a data-sharing project for environmental justice organizations in Michigan. I’m also excited to see the growth of indicator databases in communities outside Boston. These databases track community well-being. Two of the databases are the National Neighborhood Indicators Project and the Community Indicators Consortium.

Since it’s Earth Day, that gives me an opportunity to talk about eco-friendly electronics.

Environmentally speaking, bloggers and other electronics enthusiasts aren’t innocent. We use and discard electronics while consuming energy from coal-fired power plants. Our computers and cell phones also contribute to air and water pollution during their mining, manufacturing and disposal.

For a simple overview of how this cycle happens, check out The Story of Electronics:

As the video explains, companies design our electronics for a relatively short life cycle – less than two years. After that, recycling companies dispose of the electronics unsafely overseas. The workers who produce the electronics suffer from miscarriages and cancer.

What’s a responsible electronics enthusiast to do? The good news is that you have many opportunities to break the cycle.

Buy Refurbished or Eco-Friendly Electronics

Eco-friendly cell phones are starting to show up on the market. This is important because some of the materials inside cell phones come from nations that have few protections for mine workers. CNet has reviewed some of the eco-friendly phones.

The Green Electronics Council has created a certification called EPEAT for eco-friendly computers. EPEAT-certified computers are manufactured with more recycled components and fewer toxic chemicals than other computers, leading to less hazardous waste.

Repair Your Electronics

Although it may be convenient to buy a shiny new computer when your old one has lost its charm, resist the urge to shop. Fix your computer instead.

You may not be able to impress your friends with new gadgets if you fix your electronics instead of throwing them away, but you’ll be preventing pollution-related health problems in China, India and/or Africa. So you can give yourself a gold star for that. Maybe someday your friends will consider your computer hip and vintage, like an old record player.

Plug into Renewable Energy

If your utility company offers a renewable energy option, buy into it. The cost difference is often minimal. If you want to impress your roommates or family, buy your own solar panel. Energy experts say solar panels are in style.

Save Power

Turn off electronics and power strips when you aren’t using them. Turn down the brightness on your cell phone and computer screens. Uninstall apps which keep your phone using extra energy. Adjust your power-saving control panel settings. Beware of entertaining screen savers – the odds are that they aren’t helping you save energy.

Donate Unwanted Electronics

If your old computers and cell phones are gathering dust, donate them instead of recycling them. You should clean your hard drive before donating your computer.

Domestic violence shelters reuse cell phones after removing identifying information. When people in these shelters have cell phones, they can call for help in emergencies. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence accepts phone donations.

Nonprofits often accept donated computers. Check out their wish lists during the holiday season. World Computer Exchange will send your computer to a community organization in a developing nation.

What choices have you made to reduce the environmental impact of using electronics?

This post is inspired by Lee Worden’s article “Counterculture, Cyberculture, and the Third Culture: Reinventing Civilization, Then and Now”. Worden says the counterculture of the 1970s gave rise to the movements that have since spawned Google, WikiLeaks and Wired Magazine. Worden describes these movements as both idealist and libertarian.

What do these technology movements believe? Worden identified four central threads.

  1. Belief that access to tools is empowering on its own
  2. Rejection of bureaucratic systems in favor of new options
  3. Creation of flexible social structures to accomplish goals
  4. Idealization of individual freedom
Lava lamp
Like futuristic technology, lava lamps were also idealized in the 1970s.

Peter Taylor, a professor at University of Massachusetts-Boston, has diagrammed the trends in the article.

I’m somewhat critical of the four assumptions above, even though I can see their value.

Does Access to Technology Solve Problems?

Access to tools alone doesn’t create the social outcomes communities may desire. I’ve seen examples of this in the nonprofit world and in K-12 education. If technology isn’t seen as relevant, practical and useful, a community may not respond positively to it.

Sometimes, poorly designed or misapplied technology can be confusing or even destructive. When I was in engineering school, there was a joke circulating which said the Ph.D. exam for mechanical engineers involved being locked in a room with a saber-toothed tiger, a disassembled gun, and a user’s manual written in Swahili. Not every technological solution is a useful one.

Should Crowd-Sourcing Replace Paid Work?

Creating flexible social structures can have both advantages and disadvantages. Many of these organizations rely on volunteer labor. Their volunteers work within structured institutions during the day and then spend their free time on these other projects. One could argue that citizen journalists are not being paid adequately for their time.

To what extent should these modern, flexible technology organizations rely on crowd-sourced, unpaid or underpaid labor? As the worldwide market becomes more competitive, people in technical and creative occupations may find that volunteers are making their jobs obsolete. Fact-checking, a traditional staple of journalism, could be replaced by community-sourced editing.

Should Individual Voices Replace Experts and Organizations?

Technology projects find ways to reward and encourage problem solving and innovation. They reach beyond bureaucracies into the community. Some of these projects are housed within universities. There are many crowd-sourced projects going on today – from gathering science data to fact-checking news articles. The organizers of these projects are often enthusiastic about the value of individual voices.

The shortcomings of overvaluing individual voices already show among bloggers, where a chorus of individual voices can sometimes drown out sources that are more reliable. On the other hand, sometimes projects like Wikipedia can eclipse encyclopedias.

Despite the disadvantages of the idealized, crowd-sourced, egalitarian model of creating technology and content, this approach can be very productive if used skillfully. Google uses this model for much of its work.

What Matters More – Innovation or Community?

As Worden says, this popular online business model “blurs the line between the company and its customers, essentially encouraging customers to create the product, and then selling the customers and their work to each other and keeping the profits.” This model benefits businesses, but doesn’t necessarily support the best interests of the communities around them.

Worden worries about the potential of giving inventors infinite freedom to create products which may be dangerous or poorly designed. He believes community values should come first.

The story of the gun and the saber-toothed tiger shows that sometimes relationships should matter more than technology. If the engineering student focuses on assembling the gun, it’s too late. It’s the student’s ability to calm the tiger that may save the day.

In journalism, there’s a relatively new movement called Hacks/Hackers. I call it a movement because it appears to be more than a trend or isolated group. Journalists who are part of Hacks/Hackers seek to mix tech smarts with journalism savvy.

Is Journalism Marrying Technology?

Because I got an engineering degree before studying mass communication, it’s fascinating for me to watch this movement expand. Infographics, multimedia, Web 2.0 and other techniques of the information revolution combine with journalism’s traditional tools of the trade to create hybrid communication styles. For storytellers with graphic design and video experience, the possibilities are endless.

My first encounter with the idea of technologically advanced storytelling came via mashups. Since then, I’ve seen alternatives proliferate online. For example, Beth Kanter’s blog uses infographics and video on nonprofit communication to amplify her message. I am interested in moving this blog in that direction by adding more multimedia content.

Does Social Media Use Move Writers Closer to Gonzo Journalism?

A recent blog post reflecting on a Hacks/Hackers meetup in Boston brings up the question of how personal storytelling affects objectivity in new media journalism. Telling personal stories is a standby for me on this blog; in the world of Web 2.0, having a personality is an advantage. But this makes it difficult for writers to maintain the professional distance from their stories that many journalism organizations have expected.

While I follow rules about balance – which depend on the project I’m doing and its audience – my blog does have a personality. This doesn’t mean every aspect of my life belongs in my Twitter feed. But it does mean that social media has changed the way I write and has moved my blogging style away from traditional newswriting toward a fusion of the personal and the professional.

As a graduate student, I drew on my personal experience of living in urban communities to develop my research and thesis. That certainly colors my perspective on writing about environmental justice. In the interest of balance, I should say I’ve also worked in electronics factories and research labs which contributed to chemical pollution. I became interested in life cycle analysis while I was working in one of these factories.

There is a tradition called gonzo journalism in which writers go out and state their experiences without claiming objectivity. To the extent that social media makes journalists show their personal experiences, blogging may be bringing us closer to that style of writing. The popularity of reality TV shows that being oneself can appeal to audiences. I’m not suggesting that journalists’ lives should be open books, or that social media should make us all write like Hunter S. Thompson, but it’s interesting to watch how writers merge the personal and professional in their social media work.


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A Harvard researcher’s blog says he’s seeing a curious change among Web-savvy college students in his classes. Instead of delving into the Internet for its own sake, these students use the Web to further their offline adventures. They make chapbooks (and probably zines), engage in knitting and other crafts, and use the Web as a route to offline activities.

In 2008, I made a conscious decision to use the Web strategically. As I spent more time on social media, I found I was losing the sense of creativity that physical activity brings me.

Before 2004, I had physically active jobs. Now, my main commitment after work is to a full schedule of dance classes. I believe active jobs and classes can keep one’s ability to innovate alive.

Intriguing studies hint at the positive value of doodling, which implies that writing by hand may activate different parts of the brain than typing does. The written word doesn’t equal the typed word.

When we spend too much time behind a flat screen, we may lose the ability to solve some kinds of problems. A study of three-dimensional problem solving showed that computer-aided drafting classes didn’t improve community college students’ ability to visualize solutions. The authors recommended bringing three-dimensional demonstrations into the classroom.

Environmentally speaking, time online removes us from the ecosystems that surround us; cell phone apps that simulate global warming don’t solve that problem. It also cuts down our time spent learning basic skills like gardening and cooking.

Internet use also affects our communication and may make it easy to avoid – or categorize and dismiss – unwelcome perspectives. It can create an atmosphere where each of our artistic products are automatically in public space. This may inhibit creativity.

On the other hand, browsing on Stumbleupon helps me synthesize ideas for blog posts like this one. Internet use may make it harder for us to focus and tap into our creative sides, but it also makes it easier for us to create mental categories and mashups in which we file others’ ideas.

Ideally, I’d like to see more people understand that life doesn’t have to revolve around the Web. The online world is an adjunct to the offline one. Active learning, conversation, creativity, problem solving and conflict resolution often live offline. To reduce socially polarized conversations, access innovation, and learn and maintain survival and problem solving skills, sometimes it’s best to unplug ourselves from the digital world for a while.

“That’s the infuriating part of this — people who are really trying to do the right thing [and] going to the trouble of taking their old stuff to some place thinking it’s going to be recycled have no idea that it’s not going to be recycled at all.”

– Barbara Kyle, Electronics TakeBack Coalition

Miller-McCune published an article on electronics recycling last month. After recycling enthusiastically for years, I was disappointed to learn that many of my electronics may have ended up in “acid baths and burn pits.” As a consumer, I want to know where my electronics are going – especially if they are being used unsafely overseas.

What does one call “recycling”? It’s an interesting question. Should there be a definition? I doubt that shipping material to sites where people will burn electronics in open pits would meet an international standard for recycling.

This is a classic example of misaligned incentives. Manufacturers, recyclers and consumers don’t pay the full cost of cheap disposal of electronics, so we collectively lack the motivation to change this situation. Somehow, the fact that we live in a closed ecological system doesn’t enter the equation.

Electronics on the Brain
Let's use our brain circuits before we burn our electric circuits.

We pass on the residue of our mistakes to future generations.

Social media are changing the dynamics of science communication. If you visualize communication as a flow chart, the arrow is no longer pointing in just one direction. Here are some examples.

  1. User interface design research shows how much readers appreciate audience-oriented websites. When the creators of Facebook wanted their site to become popular, they didn’t design a website with pages for each of their departments; they focused on user interaction. Audience goals and interests determine the site design.
  2. Social media outreach requires time; it is an ongoing community-building project. In the past, organizations would post reports online and expect readers to track them down. Today, many readers seek out groups that will communicate with them. Static content isn’t as attention-getting as it was a few years ago.
  3. If you’re interested in science or research but don’t have a degree in the field, you can participate in online citizen science projects, wiki writing and crowdsourced fact-checking. In the 1980s, these opportunities didn’t exist yet.

Changing the social dynamics of science has both positive and negative effects. Unscientific America points out that there are many unreliable sources competing with more accurate ones for air time. Reviewing content collaboratively can address many of these issues, but quality control is also important. Some websites, including Quora, are making sustained efforts to provide reliable answers. If someone posts on Wikipedia that a UFO landed at the royal wedding in Britain, it’s likely that an editor will fix the entry.

Last week, I had a coffee chat with a communications professional who reads this blog. She suggested I write a post about user interface design. I jotted down the idea and let it percolate for a few days.

When I sat down to write the post this morning, I realized I was bored. The “zing” that I seek in a blog topic was missing. Writing about the technical aspects of user interface design without their communications context is like having lemon water without the lemon.

Lemon water
User interface design can add zest to your website.

The real juice of user interface design, in my experience, is in the communication and audience interaction. Anything you add to your website – whether it’s a flash animation, a newspaper-style layout, a poll or a blog post – should serve your communication goals. What actions do you want your audiences to take?

Designing an attractive user interface that doesn’t advance your goals is like sticking a lemon rind on the edge of a glass but not putting the juice in. Some extra features may sound appealing, but their whiz-bang effects will fall flat if audiences don’t share your enthusiasm.

Clarity is essential in user interface design. The BBC says your readers may have the attention span of a goldfish, so be careful not to wallpaper your front page with acronyms and obscure links. You only have a few seconds to get their attention and keep it. Think about the central messages you want to share.

Your organization has a personality. Let it show. If your organization was a guest at a party, how would it behave? What conversations would it start? Which other guests would it approach – and why? And what color would it wear?

Your website is like a party invitation, too. What kind of party will it be? Will it be a porch cookout or a black tie gathering? What do you want your guests to tell their friends after they leave?

Your guests will participate if they value what you are offering them – whether that’s networking opportunities, energy efficiency games, or corn on the cob. (If you’re doing outreach related to agriculture, that last comment is serious.) If they have a good time visiting your site, they’ll be back – and they’ll bring their friends.

Putting zest in your site design can help motivate your audiences to participate actively and share your content with others.

Where in the world are our cell phones going? It shouldn’t be as difficult to answer this question as it is to find Carmen Sandiego.

MIT’s Senseable City Lab produced an award-winning Trash Track website which shows that it does take some sleuthing to find the final resting places of our waste. Here’s their video which excavates the fate of garbage from Seattle. While viewing this, remember that this video covers a limited time period; in 20 years, these batteries and cell phones may migrate elsewhere.

Because we live in a closed ecological system, what we have on this planet stays here (unless we send it out to orbit in space). And, one way or another, our garbage will be reused.

Like petroleum, which is made of compressed swamp residue – imagine the Everglades being buried for thousands of years – yesterday’s trash will become tomorrow’s treasure…. or, at least, tomorrow’s fast food packaging.

Our descendants will work with whatever we make – wherever we leave it for them. Think of it as a partly recyclable, sometimes toxic inheritance. This is one reason that I write about DIY.

Even sea animals may live inside bottles or reuse bits of glass. The video below shows that some of them already do.