Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where have all the citations gone?

A few lifetimes ago I was a marketing and communications specialist for nonprofits, most notably for Bay Area Action and its later incarnation as Acterra.

For a few years I wrote and/or edited weekly email newsletters and action alerts. I started doing this for the Headwaters Forest Project at BAA, then created a weekly EcoCalendar of events all around the Bay Area, and later founded Acterra's first general email newsletter.

During that span of about eight years, I also performed a lot of other communications functions, especially surrounding the Headwaters issue. For a few years my website and email list were the best sources for news on the controversies emanating from the North Coast, and I fielded inquiries from small and big sources alike, everyone from elementary school students to the big media outlets such as Time and CNN.

I spoke at events (the Green Party's state convention comes to mind) and universities (I presented to a Stanford law class once, which was a bit unnerving, but then I reminded myself they were just students), I did radio interviews, I fielded calls and emails and faxes from reporters all over the world, and my email list contained addresses from places as far-flung as Japan and Australia and people from the press, government, and even Hollywood.

Copy this, please

This all happened in a time when the migration of such information to the Internet was much, much less frequent, and a lot harder to do. Nevertheless, lots of people copied my emails and forwarded them along to others. Which is what we wanted. Unlike commercial material, for which one might have copy-protection concerns, we wanted this information spread far and wide. Granted, we didn't want people to re-edit the information, so I simply attached a footer to my email template that stated that permission was thereby granted to forward the email in its entirety, for non-commercial purposes.

And people did it. In droves. They forwarded it on to their friends and family, co-workers, whomever. Some maintained their own large lists of concerned citizens interested in environmental issues, and they sent my emails along to them. Others posted my newsletters and action alerts on their AOL and Geocities homepages, on university listservs, and lots of other places.

Here are a few examples, still archived in various niches of the 'net:
Later, as search engines became more adept at crawling and indexing the content of the web (this had all occurred before Google existed), I'd be doing Headwaters research on AltaVista or Yahoo! or Dmoz, and come I'd across some of my old emails and articles scattered across the web.

Fading way

In more recent years I've noticed that Google's algorithm seems to be devaluing these old (nearly ancient in Internet time) posts, probably for fairly legitimate reasons (the HTML of those old web pages would not withstand semantic rigors of modern search technology), so they rarely show up in results, or if they do, they're buried many, many, many results pages deep. It's probably that a lot of those pages are simply gone now too, as people fold their old accounts or Geocities pages get closed down, or whatever.

When I first started noticing this, I must admit that it was a little sad, as it seemed almost as if my contributions were disappearing from the universe. I know this is not strictly true, but in a world where we seem to rely increasingly on Google to provide us with what we want to know (I'm certainly guilty of this reliance), it's disappointing that the content of those older articles is devalued in large part because the method used for archiving them did not use the modern HTML standards.

It's a little like devaluing the best encyclopedia in the (physical) library because its publishers have not yet made it available online. Perhaps the actual content contained in that encyclopedia is of better quality than anything published on the web, but most people would never know it because they'd never see it.

I'm conflicted about this on many levels. Partly because I believe passionately that people should have access to the best quality information (so I want people to go the library, or wherever they need to go for that single best source), but I also want that high-quality information to be much more widely accessible than that. Let's face it, the researcher in Prague seeking information on West Coast salmonids can't easily get the 700-page document off the dusty shelf of the tiny library of the Northcoast Environmental Center in California, can he? But what if it's the single best source, and it's not available online at all?

Technology will catch up

I believe (nearly) all of these documents will be available online someday. It may be a decade or more away, but it will happen.

And I will do my part. I have archived all my data from the Headwaters Forest years, and all my BAA articles and photos, and while they're not really in any usable order right now, I am confident that technology will continue to advance in ways that make the data easier to sort and publish. It's already been happening, with sites like Flickr making it easier to share photos, and tools like blogs and wikis making it easier to publish and collaborate.

Not all my contributions have faded away

Interestingly, search technology has more recently broadened to include the content of printed books too. Google Book Search began scanning the collections of several leading universities in 2004. While Google's tool is still in beta and it comprises mostly academic works, I was mildly surprised to see my name turn up with a few results. I was cited in Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, by Brian Tokar, and Writing for Real: A Handbook for Writers in Community Service , by Carolyn Ross, Joseph M. Williams, and Ardel Thomas. I'd forgotten that I was also thanked in Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society, by my friend Randy Schutt.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Updates to the blog

I added some links in the sidebar to some of my past posts that are popular (get a lot of in-links or referrers), or that are overlooked but potentially valuable. And a few that are just for fun. Gentle reader, please do let me know if your favorite was left out.

I also updated my Never-ending list of projects, and I predict Velma will be astonished at how many of them have seen action taken.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

BAA History Project

I made some updates over at the BAA History Project.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The never-ending list of projects

Updated October 21, 2009

Updated November 18, 2007

This is where I keep my list of personal projects I’m constantly trying to find enough time for. It’s my life’s work to perpetually juggle these. They are listed here in no particular order...
  • Update my portfolio, now that I have to start looking for a new job. Update Oct. 2009: Spent much of 2008 and early 2009 on this, and it’s pretty much done. Just need to add a few more critical projects to it. Many people have already seen it, although I haven’t launched it publicly.
  • Finish the Ozzy logo vector. Update Oct. 2009: 88% done. I already used a version of it in a design.
  • Finish the Google personal project.
  • Start that web design group blog I’ve been wanting to do for a year. Update: Registered the domain, made some designs, but haven't gotten much further. Update Oct. 2009: Since I had this idea in 2006, a plethora of great design blogs have burgeoned on the net, so this one’s getting shelved indefinitely. Might have to sell that domain though, it’s a pretty decent one.
  • Spec out the use cases and user flows for the software Jenny and I are going to make (codename: Stacks). Update Oct. 2009: This project evolved a lot and I worked on it a lot in 2008 and 2009. I evaluated several ways to do it, but decided to keep it as a smaller side project for now.
  • Make a logo/icon for Stacks. Update Oct. 2009: Done in early 2009!
  • Write web design tutorials.
  • Decide which camera to buy — Update: approaching a decision... Update: Done! Bought a Sony Cyber-shot F828 before our Mexico honeymoon last year (Dec 2006)
  • Hitchin' favors — Update: 1 down, 1 to go. Done!
  • Redesign my website/blog. Update Oct. 2009: Mostly done. See “Update my portfolio” above.
  • Convert all my CDs to MP3s. Update: Continually making progress. Update Oct. 2009: Made more progress in 2008 but had a setback in 2009 when out iTunes library became corrupt and the only was I could build it was to re-import the XML file. Unfortunately, this file doesn’t include your playlists, so we lost all those, although we recovered play counts, star ratings, and some other metadata. iTunes seems to have misplaced several tens of thousands of songs, too. They’re still on the HD, but for some reason they aren’t in the library anymore. So I have to try to fix that still.
  • Set up the Mac Mini as the home theater. Done!
  • Try out software for remotely operating iTunes.
  • Have my dad’s old slides scanned and archived, added to Flickr. Update Oct. 2009: Sent a trial batch to ScanCafe in late 2008, and was impressed enough to send the rest, which I haven’t had time to do yet. Although I just recently started organizing a batch to send off as soon as they send me a good coupon.
  • Back up all my HDs; buy a Terraserver or something. Update Oct. 2009: Bought LaCie Rugged Drives for Velma and I to do off-site backup. Set hers up but still need to do mine : \
  • Back up all my music to DVDs or something.
  • Back up all my photos to DVDs. Update Oct. 2009: Done in 2008. Need to update for 2009.
  • Buy a Mac Pro. Done!
  • Watch and sell/get rid of all my old VHS tapes; for those I want to keep, add them to my Netflix or Peerflix list. Update: Mostly because of Velma’s help, I was able to donate about half of the VHS tapes to charity.
  • Convert one-of-a-kind and hard-to-find VHS tapes to digital (forests footage, etc.).
  • Convert my personal one-of-a-kind Hi-8 tapes to digital (forests footage, protests, etc.).
  • Hang more photos at home
  • Sort through boxes.
  • Make photobooks. Update Oct. 2009: Did many, many of these in the last two years. Got rid of a ton of stuff and finally properly filed a bunch of paperwork.
  • Make personal business cards. Update: Working on some Moo cards. Update Oct. 2009: Made Moo cards. Need to do a new batch soon, now that they’ve upgraded them.
  • Re-do and convert to strict xHTML and CSS. Update Oct. 2009: Made a first design, but haven’t had time for the coding yet.
  • Implement blog on Done!
  • Check all software for updates/upgrades (should do quarterly). Update Oct. 2009: Have done about once or twice a year.
  • Back up all fonts (work and home).
  • Decide on iPhoto or iView Media Pro. Done! (Decided on iView) Update Oct. 2009: Switched to Adobe Bridge in 2008. Also started using iPhoto again in early 2009 when they added face recognition and geolocation data.
  • Buy another stackable HD for the Mini, and a spindle of CDs. Update Oct. 2009: Done!
  • Put up shelves Done! (bookcases)
  • Create a Douglas Adams fan blog that Will and I can post to. Update: Started a design but didn't have time to finish yet.
  • Fix photoblog’s browse function.
  • Fix photoblog’s comments.
  • Update to latest PixelPost version.
  • Fix Velma’s self portraits gallery for IE.
  • Write a case study about the Webshots icons.
  • Fix phone and voicemail. Update Oct. 2009: Cancelled the VOIP.
  • Convert to blog. Done!
  • as public wiki?
  • as blog?
  • Update Olya’s art website.

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