Thursday, November 22, 2007

Animoto: New way to present photos

Aminoto (beta) is a cool web application that automatically generates videos from images and music.

Upload your own images or retrieve them from Facebook, Smugmug, Picasa, and Photobucket.

Add your own embed music from the Aminoto's selection or use your own.

The 30 second version is free, but the longer version current costs $3 or you can get unlimited access for $30 per year.

Possible uses of aminoto are:

  • showing activities during anual reports to local funding agencies.
  • summarizing a season or year for a group.
  • setting the stage in an opening of a meeting by using an upbeat video.
  • creating video scrapbook.
According to the animoto site, future plans are to:

  • provide additional user control over speed in the near future.
  • user control over the photo.
  • allow downloading of the videos.
  • add text to videos (currently to add text you should edit the photos in a photo editor to create a photo with text).

Why does animoto charge?

The main reason we charge has to do with the intensity of our video production process. In order to be able to offer something different from what's out there on the web, namely the type of "high-end" motion design and effects used in TV & film, we actually have to produce from scratch EACH new frame of your Animoto video... and there are 24 frames in each second of video! As you can imagine, this takes massive amounts of processor power, so we unfortunately can't afford to give everything away for free, particularly full-length videos, which really have intense demands on our render system. Fun fact: did you know it takes Pixar Studios 408 hours to render each second of their films using 3000 computers? Makes what we're doing here at Animoto seem pretty whimpy.

For demonstration, I used a set of photos taken from a trip that members of the Alabama Agricultural County Agents and Specialist Association made to help a few citizens in Hancock County, Mississippi one year after Katrina (September 2006). The story behind the video can be found at .

Tips for blogging: An analogy of blogging and Thanksgiving Dinner

Taking a break from early morning cooking on Thanksgiving Day, I read a post from Michael Martine of Blogging Tips, How a Blog is like a Thanksgiving Dinner.

  • Focus, but variety matters.
  • Prepare, plan.
  • Please your guests, by writing what you like AND what they like.
  • Follow best practices.
  • Serve “leftovers” in a variety of creative ways. One way is to link to previous posts, but say your message differently.
  • Put a twist to the traditional. Staying with the traditions (which is still important, albeit) only, gets boring.

Have a great Thanksgiving Holiday!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The front page is not the entry point-not even looked at

We have known for a long time that the front page of our web site is not the entry point to people outside of our organization.

After analyzing the Iowa State Extension page, Brian Webster Brian Webster found that less than 1% of the total visits saw the home page after coming into a different page.

Another important point is that underlying pages are very important.

One thing that jumped out is that “The Long Tail” definitely exists on our web server. This says that a small number of pages have the highest visits per page. However, when aggregated together, the less popular web pages make up the bulk of the visits.

This probably true of any informational and educational sites, at least the ones I am most familiar with. Where do we spend most of our time developing? Does this change the way we plan and development our web sites?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Challenging the process is a must to move from good to great

What are we doing to facilitate innovative ideas? Who are we asking and watching? What processes do we need to question as to their appropriateness in our organizations today?

This week I will be helping facilitate a Leadership Challenge workshop. I attended this workshop in the Spring and was asked to help with this session.

The Leadership Challenge concept is based on the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner researched that exemplary leaders practice these competencies. Anyone can provide leadership within their organizations.

The five practices are:

Model the Way which leaders voice and clarify their values and set examples for others to follow.
Inspire a Shared Vision which leaders envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become.

Challenge the Process which leaders look for opportunities and seek innovative ways to improve their organizations, by stepping into the process, experimenting, and taking risks.
Enable Others to Act which leaders foster collaboration and actively involve others, making others feel capable and powerful.
Encourage the Heart which leaders recognize and celebrate contributions that individuals make.

I am facilitating this workshop with the 3 instructors from the Spring workshop. Francesca Adler-Baeder, Rebecca Dollman, and Denise Michelle Cole.

One of my responsibilities is to facilitate the "Challenge the Process" module. The point is to encourage participants to challenge the way things are done in order to find creative solutions. Doing the same things over and over will not create innovative ideas. Innovations, are not usually created by one individual, but ideas are developed by seeing other products, services, and communications outside of our normal processes. An idea can be sparked by a simple notion or a conversation.

Another point of this module is that successful change happens in small steps. These small steps invokes confidence and can more easily be used as trial and error exercises. One example used is how U. S. Mint transformed from a non-responsive agency into one with great customer service and cutting edge web presence by taking the changes in steps.

During the workshop, the participants will come up with their own ways to seek innovation ideas and to step outside of our boundaries.

As I have been preparing for this workshop, I have thought of Ron Brown's talk on the Future of Extension. Several times, he referred to Jim Collin's book Good to Great. Ron talked about how we are good, but if we want to become great, we cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and listening to ourselves.

One example that we could ponder is: We will not create a great Extension's web presence by simply moving a print format and approach and a classroom learning approach to the web. We can be good at some of this, but we cannot become great with standard approaches.

What can we do in our own organizations that will help create innovative processes? How and which successful organizations should we be observing? What do we know about what our clients want?

In addressing Web 2.0, some people want to create online communities--develop online communities based on our traditional ways of education and providing information. Moving toward existing communities and current online conversations seems to be a more appropriate way to step into the process of developing innovative ideas. In this scenario, we go to our audiences rather than them coming to us. Getting started in online conversations is a start--a beginning point.
We have more ways than ever to seek changes and involve people from outside of organizations. We have more ways than ever to seek partnerships with nontraditional organizations? The possibilities through easy connections are endless.

Another thought when preparing for this workshop, is that we should also be looking into the future. Technologies are obviously advancing, so how can we prepare our workforce to take advantages of the newest technologies? How do we prepare them so they are ready to use new technologies effectively--before these changes arrive? One way is to be knowledgeable of the development of technologies. We need to develop an understanding of the newest technologies--even if we and our clientele cannot currently afford them.

We simply cannot make decisions based on the technologies we have at-hand. The following video is an example of a telepresence technology. Thanks to Mitch Owen for the link. Mitch mentions technologies take 20 years to develop. I don't believe it will be 20 years. What are the implications? With this technology, what are the possibilities of using this technology if 5 years, 10 years? What other technologies will change the way we communicate and operate?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Beyond the beginner blogger--measure your blog

Tony Glover has been blogging only a couple weeks, I like his approach to blogging and think that his blog can serve as an example to other knowledge workers who are considering blogging.

Tony is a regional Extension commercial horticulture agent, located at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture &Environmental Center at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, Alabama. Tony's blog, Heart of Dixie Gardener, serves as a model for a beginning blog because:

1. Tony is blogging his knowledge, job, and passion.

2. He expands his reach by using everyday questions from clients as topics for his blog posts.

3. Tony is using links within his blog so others can investigate the topic further. While this technique takes a little bit of time,
By linking to it, you are 1) giving credit for your inspiration and 2) giving the reader an opportunity to delve into the topic for more detail and explanation.

4. Tony is using pictures as a way to demonstrate his point.

Now what? My advice is to keep blogging (obviously).

One particular question he may be asking is "How do I know how many people are reading my blog?" My advice:

1. Claim his blog in Technorati.

2. Use Google Analytics.
The statistics in Google Analytics count the number of visits to his blog, the number of pages visited by during each visit, length of time spent on his blog, what directed the visitors to his site, and where the visitors are located.

3. Use Feedburner.
When the feed is fed through Feedburner, then the number of feeds that are routed through Feedburner can be counted.

Daily Blog Tips blog offers explanations for measuring blogs.

Tips for beginner bloggers can be found:
Tips from a New Blogger
Blogging: Stepping into the learning process
Make mine chunky -- Write and present information in chunks