Wendy’s Words

April 12, 2009

Embracing — or Rejecting — Technology

Filed under: Social Media,Technology — wdarling @ 12:12 pm
Tags: ,

Today’s Easter and I was lucky enough to have friends, good weather and other pleasantness to fill my morning. On the way back, however, discussion suddenly turned to technology and I wound up in an argument with a good friend.

It began when I pulled out my phone to put it in my pocket during the bike ride home. One of my friends exploded: “You’re not doing that stupid Twitter thing again are you? Ugh, why are you doing that again? I don’t understand it!” (Side note: I was not Twittering.) From this my other friend picked up the thread and proceeded to have it out with me over around two miles. While eventually we got too out of breath to continue, for around fifteen minutes we covered  lot of ground.

One of the biggest points that come out of the discussion wasn’t actually something that was said, but a theme I drew out of it afterward, which is this: New communications formats often appear to be useless and stupid until you yourself find a use for them. Or to put it another way, you stop making fun of a form of technology the minute you use it and personally benefit. Sometimes it takes multiple exposures to reach the point of benefit, but once it’s reached, a light seems to dawn and you realize that there is indeed a “point” to the technology.

To use a concrete example, I’ll use blogging. Back in the day, I considered blogging pointless and self-indulgent. Who did it benefit but your own ego? My friend, with whom I had the argument today, felt the same. However, eventually we both made the leap to blogging, as well as well as reading blogs and participating in blogging communities, and once it was no longer a theoretical experience, we found there were many benefits: logging memories and experiences, keeping in touch with friends, posting and sharing photos, taking part in topic-specific discussions, expressing opinions, connecting with others with similar interests and obsessions, etc.  What once seemed to us like a waste of time for self-indulgent losers eventually became an ingrained part of our lives, a vital communications lifeline. Stupid? No way!

Twitter, which ignited today’s argument, is a technology that is still being stigmatized by a lot of people, many of whom either don’t understand it or, more to the point at hand, have not personally used or benefited from it. A lot of the people most interested in Twitter are  those who strongly engaged in the worlds of communications, information technology or both. When news and information is currency, Twitter makes a lot of sense. If your industry or interests have nothing to do with those things or if you don’t know where to follow them on Twitter, there’s no reason it would be attractive. However, if you’re like me and need and want to spread and receive news, receive on-spot reports, and share technological developments, Twitter is a gold mine.

For my friends, and non-Twitter people, to embrace Twitter, or other technologies and forms of communications, there has to be something about the use that brings actual value. My friend is an opera nut, so I suppose one day opera gossip and news could go on Twitter — it probably is already! — and he could come to view it differently. Or maybe the big corporation he works for will switch to a system where the on-site repair people Twitter their locations and activities in real time, making it easier for him to track them, either via Twitter or a third-party application that uses GPS or sorts out individual workers or ties into the company system. This would cut out the phone calls and necessity of logging things into the system, since it would all be captured via Twitter, with time and GPS stamps. To my friend, this would be something useful.

There are many forms of communications that have come and gone and with the arrival of each, it’s taken people time to adjust. Telegrams, telephones, radio, faxes, television, email, etc., ad nauseum, have been resisted and eventually embraced (even if later to go by the wayside). Perhaps right now, with so many new forms emergencing and evolving so quickly, some people are adapting at a pace that’s normal but seemingly slow compared with the technology. And as more and more forms comes out, people get more and more behind and start to get frustrated, even start to reject the changes outright. I would argue, however, that in many cases people will hop on board once they have the motivation and interest to do so.

April 2, 2009

Twitter: The Return

Filed under: Social Media,Web 2.0 — wdarling @ 2:25 pm
Tags: ,

About two months ago, I gave up on Twitter cold turkey.

Wait, wait, you’re thinking, Wendy gave up on a technology? A technology that’s cool and trendy and involves being chatty? I know, it sounds out of character, but it made sense for me at the the time.

I’d used Twitter for around a half a year before my decision to walk away. During that time, I’d followed some interesting folks and benefited from Twitter during some critical moments, like the presidential debates, the election, and storms. I’d gotten breaking news (and sent it out) via Twitter, both international and very local, e.g. so-and-so restaurant just closed. And speaking of restaurants, I got good tips on coffee shops, bars and restaurants here in Atlanta. And of course I got to hear different perspectives via following people both here in Atlanta and around the world. So it’s not like I didn’t get any value from Twitter.

Why did I walk? I walked because as a long-time blogger, I just didn’t feel like the interactions I was having via Twitter were nearly as gratifying as what I was getting via my own LiveJournal (LJ) blog and the blogs of LJ friends, many of whom I’ve known and followed for many years.  I’ve been a LJ “power user” (here I am) since 2002 and have come to see it as THE way I express myself and keep up with a lot of my close friends. I use my LJ to express my life via narrative, share news, voice opinions, crack jokes, post pictures, and follow the output of friends, communities and news feeds.

From following a friend in Munich to posting pics of my cat, LJ does a lot of the things Twitter does, only in a lot more depth. That’s what I felt I was missing — depth. It seemed near impossible to me to really get to “know” somebody via their Tweets. This was even true of people I knew in “real life” who I was following. I’d much rather read a long LJ entry on somebody’s day than get an update from them every twenty minutes: at the coffee shop, at the doctor, bored at work, in the bathroom, watching TV. It just all seemed so trivial, in small doses like that.

Curiously, I noticed a lot of people I was following on Twitter or saw posting elsewhere dissing blogs. “Blogs are so five years ago” — a typical content. People would compain they didn’t have time or inclination to write long posts about something or read something long. 140 characters was perfect for them.

This to me made me think more and more about how dissatisfied I was with some aspects of Twitter versus what I was used to with LiveJournal. And I just got to thinking that I didn’t agree with that POV at all. The concept of somebody being relieved at the thought of only having to make Tweets, not whole sentences and paragraphs, sort of horrified me. It’s not even like saying you prefer the movie version of a book over the actual book, but like saying you prefer the 1-min. YouTube acted-out-by-Peeps version of a book over the actual book. I’ve never found it challenging to write a lot or to read a lot. So perhaps it’s just some sort of snobbery on my part, but that’s how I felt.

So I walked away… but now I’m coming back! Why? Because with some time off, I’ve gained some perspective and figured out how to make better use of Twitter. Rather than using it for personal purposes, as I do my LJ blog, I’m going to be using it more for professional purposes. This includes things like sharing articles relevant to my profession — new media web guru geek — and examples of my work, asking questions of fellow professionals, etc. That to me is valuable because I don’t really use LiveJournal — or Facebook for that matter — for professional purposes. I don’t have a lot of people on my LJ friends list who do what I do for a living. So if I post something about being excited about an XML feed or creating a cool template in our CMS, nobody cares. But if I did that in Twitter amongst a more targeted audience, using hatch tags, it would have a lot more value. Same goes for me following people in my professional locally or beyond the local — I’ll be learning things, finding chances to socialize, etc., that I wouldn’t get via LJ or Facebook.

The takeaway from this? Following me @wcdarling on Twitter!

January 5, 2009

The Social Media Explosion

Filed under: Social Media,Web 2.0,Web Development — wdarling @ 1:26 pm

“Social Media” was one of the big buzzwords of 2008 but in fact is something that’s been growing as a phenomenon for several years. However, 2008 was the year that various services reached the critical mass necessary to bring them to the level of people who don’t actually push the tech-geek envelope for a living. It was also the year that even some tech-geeks, yours truly included, started getting a little overwhelmed with all the options out there.  And how many options are there? Well, check out the awesome “Social Media Map” created by Overdrive Interactive!

socialmediamap
Social Media Map
by Overdrive Interactive

This morning I went through this chart and wound up feeling a little more on top of things than I expected: I use 18 of these services regularly! Some of them, like LiveJournal, I’ve used for many years, while others, like Picasa and Twitter, are ones I’ve only begun using in the past few months. Overall, I find that I use 2-3 different services under each category, which is about right, because you can’t use all the services and certainly can’t be effective at using all of them. Why use Flickr if you’re already doing Picasa? Or why use Blogger if you’re happy with WordPress? Still, I will be looking up some of these URLs to see if there’s anything I’m missing in terms of a services or connection I don’t already have.

October 6, 2008

Web Developer Extension for Firefox

Filed under: Web Design,Web Development — wdarling @ 10:51 am

Picked up all kinds of groovy info at Webmaster Jam Session ‘08, including the details of one particularly cool tool: Web Developer Extension for Firefox (and Flock and Seamonkey). The developer, Chris Pederick, did a presentation and it blew me away. I had already installed the extension but didn’t know the true power of the tool, alas.

Examples of coolness you can accomplish:

  1. See web site w/CSS removed,
  2. alter CSS on the fly,
  3. view in small screen mode,
  4. show alt tags,
  5. remove images,
  6. ultra-handy ruler/area measure tool,
  7. validate code (CSS, HTML, etc.),
  8. get site color scheme in hex values.

And these are just a few of the tools; Chris said in his talk that there are over 100 things you can do. I bet there are even more, if you think about using multiple tools in combination. (Math geeks, go crazy calculating!.)

Anyway, to the point: download it at http://chrispederick.com/work/web-developer/.

August 4, 2008

Web Rec: thesixtyone

Filed under: Music,Web 2.0,Web Site — wdarling @ 7:47 pm

Much has been written on the topic of online music, file sharing, and the future of the “tradional” modern music industry. I’m not here to rehash all of that, but I am here to describe an interesting web music service that, as far as I know, is a fairly unique model and serves both artists and listeners. I stumbled across thesixtyone when a story involving a series of remixes popped up on Digg — which is funny because the service is conceptually similar to Digg, except with music as currency, rather than news, pics or video. I’ve been using and enjoying it for a couple of months now yet don’t know anyone else who uses it, or who has heard of it. Maybe it’ll be the next big thing, the next Facebook, or maybe not, but for the present I just want to share its potential.

The way thesixtyone works is pretty simple.

Artists register and start uploading their songs, tagging them with the appropriate genres and artwork. Each artist gets a “homepage” showing their latest uploads, linking to their full library, and leaving room for things like concert dates, background, etc. This page also shows off the artist’s points, i.e. how many listens their stuff is getting. (More on the point system later.)

For registered listeners, there’s a similar set-up, except your homepage isn’t based on what music you upload, but what you’ve listened to and added to your personal playlist which, in essence, becomes your “station.” Adding tunes is as easy as clicking on what you like, which you do by moving around within genres and letting the tunes roll. Or you can go to a particular artist’s site and listen to their catalog. Or — and this is my preference — you can listen to The Rack and hear just-posted-or-at-least-low-ranked music and decide you like it. Just click a Favorite or Add button and ka-ching, it’s there.

But it gets better. Not only do you get to “collect” songs and in essence create your own personal “station,” but you get to actually influence thesixtyone’s charts by Bumping. (I think there may be a trademark symbol needed there, not sure.) To give a Bump is the equivalent of saying “This song is awesome!” / “Turn it up, man!” / “Top of the pops!” Or favoriting something on Digg. — except that instead of pushing up a news item or a stupid video, you’re Bumping the song up the charts. So a song comes up, starts at 0 Bumps, but as it comes up in the Rack or fans of that artist give Bumps, the song starts to rise. And when a song rises high enough, it goes to the homepage of its genre, whether that’s Trip Hop or British Folk. And if it does really, really well, it’ll end up on thesixtyone’s homepage. So by using up your Bumps — currency you need to spend, large amounts for a not-yet-popular song, smaller amount for popular — you get a vote in the market.

And now it’s time for me to sound even more like an infomercial: Yes, there’s MORE! Not only do you as a listener get to influence the charts by Bumping, but if other people agree with you and also Bump, then you get rewarded. How? Points are added to your account. And the more points you have, the more times you can Bump songs. (I think I am now alloweed 10 Bumps, as I have over 3000 points.) The number of points added to your account (“Bump Rewards”) depends on how your song rises. So every day you log in, you get an update on your “earnings,” plus 20 free points just for logging in.

Another way to earn points if by listening to The Rack, mentioned above as a source of fresh tunes not up on any homepages, either because they’ve just been posted or they’re just not popular yet. If you just open The Rack, it’s like signing up for surprise gift packages within the particular genre. You might hear crap (which you can mark “Never Play Again”), you might hear stuff that’s OK (“Skip”) or you could find really cool stuff, which you can Favorite or Bump. As you’re listening, you earn points, usually 1-2, but sometimes more, like if you’re listening to a song in some really obscure genre. (I’ve noticed I rack up points by listening to Experimental.) Often you will get a “Rack Refund” after you Bump, meaning that although you’ve spent points Bumping, because you’ve been nice enough to Bump, you get some points back. It’s like a thank you.

Finally, a word about — duh! — the music. I haven’t mentioned it so far, concentrating on the system over content — but the music is pretty cool. It’s fresh stuff, unlikely to be by anyone you’ve heard of before, and you can find stuff in any genre you can think of. Personally, I have been sticking to Electronic, Dance and Experimental, because I mostly listen while working and can’t deal with music with lots of lyrics while I’m working. (I also think that it’s easier to like a lot of electronica that it is to like, say, all pop/rock music or even all of a very specific genre, like Jazz Fusion. Or at least it is for me.) I’ve been very impressed with some of the stuff I’ve come across, stuff I haven’t heard “fresh” in a long time because it’s locked out of the mainstream and would never, ever be on the radio. I few of my band “discoveries”: My Robot Friend, The Upstairs Room, Spaceman Spiff, and Ruckus Roboticus.

So in the mood for something new? Something more interactive, more democratic? Something catered just to you? Check out thesixtyone. Two guys had an idea and ran with it. Maybe it’ll be big one one day, or maybe not, but do check it out!

P.S. May as well pimp my thesixtyone Station: thesixtyone.com/wdarling.

The Magazine Is Dead

Filed under: General Web,Journalism,Publishing — wdarling @ 1:10 am

About ten years ago, in the mid-1990s, I was a college journalism major planning a career in magazines. During the summer of 1996, I had a full-time paid internship with a national, NYC-based magazine, courtesy of a program run by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Every week I attended special events on the future of magazines, entering the magazine industry, and behind-the-scenes at magazines like Rolling Stone, Newsweek and People, so I and the other interns in the program could get an idea of what we were getting in to. We were prepared for a lot of things, but the one thing we really weren’t prepared for was the death of the magazine.

That said, I guess my intuition was working, because of all the interns, I think I was the only one who went through the program and decided not to go into journalism. This wasn’t only because I was scared of the cutthroat competition in the magazine industry job market or the NYC rents I’d have to wangle, but because I had an inkling something else — the Internet — was going to be a lot bigger and better. That summer, I remember hanging out with an artist friend of mine, who was experiment with online art projects. He asked me what the Internet was going to do to traditional magazine and newspaper publishing. I can’t remember what I said, but I know that at the time, I really didn’t know. All I knew was that, based on my experience noodling with the web thus far, going into web development and design was seeming like a much better option for me. A year later I had graduated school and was working full-time as a web designer — and loving it.

Fast forward to 2008. I’ve now been in the web development industry for over ten years. I’ve managed web sites for government agencies, universities, professional firms, small businesses, non-profits, artists and more. I’ve also turned out numerous creative projects online, including online zines and numerous blogs, plus consumed vast quantities of digital content. And based on that, and a recent look at some print magazines, I have to say that the print magazine, which ten or twelve years ago seemed fresh enough, is seeming more and more like an artifact. I want to like the form, but like poetry, it’s one of those things I enjoy in my mind but don’t turn to on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. It’s true occasionally I will pick up a magazine or a book of poetry, but for the most part I consume things that are coming to be via the web in forms far different than a printed product. “Rich” articles, RSS feeds, interactive Flash features, blogs, videos, podcasts and other types of content are offering something that few print magazine are capable of.

As a case in point, let me pull out an old issue of Vogue Hommes (French Men’s Vogue) and go over a few of the reasons why, to me as well as an increasing portion of the general public, the print magazine is a relic. I’ve picked this particular magazine both because not knowing French forces me to concentrate solely on form, not content, and because it’s the only print magazine easily available in the house. (I do have a collection of magazines, largely pre-2000, but they are in a crate at the back of a closet. Another sign the magazine as a form is a relic?)

Case Study:
Vogue Hommes
Nov. 1994

Just flipping through, this is what I encounter and some of the thoughts I have:

  • The cover has headlines, but in order to find the associated articles, I’ll have to find the Table of Contents or flip through the whole magazine. Although this magazine isn’t the size of a Cosmo, which is so big you must find the ToC in order to locate articles, I know this is still going to take some time.
  • Flipping over the cover, of course I don’t see the Table of Contents. No, there’s a two-page ad spread for Jaguar. I flip again and there’s an ad, and then a fairly succinct, one-page ToC. This is pretty good for a 14-year-old magazine, as many magazines today still persist in the annoying habit of spreading the ToC over pages, so that special features are on one page, while regular spots are on two or three or four other pages. And to get to these you have to flip pages and face ads. Sometimes you can even get confused over what’s the ToC and what’s an ad or what’s an article. This sort of thing does NOT happen on a web site!
  • To get to the first bit of actual content, I have to flip 3 times, i.e. through 2 spreads and one ad. And the content I do find is a page of blurbs apparently having to do with vacation options. There are some pictures and bits of text. There is no interactivity, no links, no multimedia. This magazine has an excuse, as it’s 14 years old, but sadly many of today’s modern magazines are still stuck in the model of offering up “unlinked” text. Of course there are magazines going out with editors who include links as a matter of course — links to retailers, related/extended online content, videos, etc. — but it’s amazing how many do not!
  • On page 12, 14 and 16 there’s an actual article, but it doesn’t deliver. The problems: 1) I have to face huge, full-page ads for expensive men’s luxury products to read the article, 2) the article has strange headers that almost make me think each page is a separate article instead of a continuation, 3) there are some nice photos but only three and not in large-enough sizes. I think about the same article on the web and know that it could be so much better: 1) no huge ads, 2) article might be split into 3 pages, but option for “view as one page” would be available, 3) photos could be presented in slideshow format or with an “enlarge” option. Moreover, the web version of this would have options available for printing, emailing to a friend, sharing on social/news networking sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.) and of course could have a section for comments. Readers can create whole dialog based on the article, whereas to me the print article is just like a dead fish, sitting there and gathering flies.
  • Music reviews fill up pages 28 and 30, but of course, this being a 1994 magazine, there are no links to music samples, extended online reviews, customer/reader reviews, or e-commerce vendors. Again, it’s true there are print magazines out there which consciously include a lot of “Go to http://www…..” links to enrich their content, it’s amazing how many do NOT. How these magazine hope to remain relevant is beyond me.
  • The magazine is filled to the brim with reviews and ads of consumer products for the rich, self-pampering man — expensive watches, electric shavers, cologne, etc. But alas there aren’t any related customer/reader comments, e-commerce links, etc. As a reader of many online magazines, newspapers, and blogs, this is something I have come to expect, and when I’m in the doctor’s office and pull out a magazine, it’s something that vexes me again, again, makes me think of the dead fish metaphor.

For its time, this magazine was average and today, it would still be about average, which is a sad commentary on how little the magazine as an object has changed.  There are magazines which are ahead of the curve, with innovative, web-ready print versions and dynanic onine editions, but far too many are laging behind. And as for Vogue Hommes online, it certainly does not embrace the web! Alas.

August 3, 2008

More on SlideShowPro

Filed under: Flash,Multimedia,Photography,Video — wdarling @ 10:32 pm

Back in January, when I first set up this blog, I posted a review of SlideShowPro, a great Flash component that enables easy set up very attractive, very customizable, very functional online slide shows and/or video players — without much actual knowledge of Flash. Sadly, I failed to follow up on that as far as blogging goes, but I did follow up as far as using the component in RL goes!

Below are a few examples of slide shows (most with audio) I created for my work at Emory University using SlideShowPro, plus an instance of a video player I was able to set up to show a series of four videos. In the six months I’ve been using the product, it’s really proven invaluable to me and my department, as I’ve been able to come through with multimedia presentations that pack a punch without taking a lot of time or effort. The clients are wowed and meanwhile I’ve only had to invest a couple of hours time.

On to the examples!

Emory University Hospital's 500th Heart Transplant Patient

Emory University Hospital's 500th Heart Transplant Patient

Audio Slide Show:
Emory University Hospital’s 500th Heart Transplant Patient

Not counting a couple of tests I did after installing the component, this is the first slide show I produced. The event our team was documenting was a press conference by the Emory Transplant team, which was celebrating the occasion of Emory University Hospital’s 500th heart transplant. The conference was to feature the patient himself, his wife, and a couple of transplant team doctors. I was invited to tag along and “do my stuff.” Essentially all I did was plunk a digital recorder on the table during the conference and plug in the photos the University photo department delivered to me a couple of hours after the event. (I snapped some photos myself with a digital camera but of course the professional’s were far superior.) When I showed this video to the media liaisons involved and to my boss, they were amazed, as it looks like the kind of this you see on the New York Times web site, yet here I’d done it with a minimum of effort and a fast turn around. Which was exactly the point of buying SlideShowPro!

Slide Show:
Emory Med Students Celebrate Match Day 2008

This is a short piece with only half a dozen photos, but it serves the purpose of telling the story of “Match Day,” the day med students find out where they will be training as residents. Because there was no sound involved and only a handful of photos, this presentation was quick and easy to set up.

Audio Slide Show:
Joint Simulation for Emory Medical and Nursing Students

This piece was actually a of fun to set up, since I had a good bit of audio delivered to me by the media liason working on the story, plus some great photos taken by a staff photographer. Once I whittled down the audio to a 2 1/2 min. story, I selected appropriate photos and went through the same set-up process as usual. Once I was done, the liaison and the nurse interviewed were wowed by the product, as it shows off the simulation training lab in a lively, visual way while also offering personal commentary via audio.

The Global Diabetes Research Center

The Global Diabetes Research Center

Audio Slide Show:
The Global Diabetes Research Center

This piece is similar to the simulation slideshow, as I was given photos and audio and asked to basically put together a story myself. I took care of the audio editing, selected photos and wrote up the captions. Once it was posted online it was featured on numerous web sites and spotlighted in electronic newsletters related to global diabetes and global health work at Emory.

How’s It Done?

To give an idea of how one of these slide shows is made, I’ll describe the process and offer up some code, using the diabetes piece as an example.

  1. Go into Flash, open the Components panel and drag the SlideShowPro component onto the stage.
  2. Select the SlideShowPro component and using the Properties panel, configure the player using the extensive list of customizable options — size, color, font, font size, image transitions, timing, etc. I also enter the name of the XML file that would be supplying data on the slide show. (More on that below).
  3. Size the Flash document to match the component player and export just as I would any Flash movie. Prior to export I set up Publish options so the HTML and SWF file are named as I desire and exported to a specific folder. (For my slideshows I have a root folder for slideshows called “slideshows” and a sub-folder called “gallery,” which I will mention in just a second. The HTML and SWF file go in the root “slideshows” directory.)
  4. Review, resize and optimize the images sent to me by University photo, then put them in a folder within the “gallery” folder. When I first started doing slide shows, I decided to set up a folder that would work as a library for all future slide shows, called “gallery” and within that, a sub-folder for this each project. For this project the images were placed here: slideshows > gallery >  album1 > photos5. All the sized images were put in this folder.
  5. Edit audio and export as an MP3. I use Audacity, a free audio editing software system, to take care of all my audio, both for slide shows and podcasts. I place the MP3, which can be music, people talking, whatever you want, in the same folder as the image (see step 4).
  6. Set up the XML file. I start with an XML file I used on the previous slide show (which originated with the makers of SlideShowPro) and basically just change the details. Even if you are a clod as far as writing XML, it’s easy enough to copy the blocks and put in the right configuations.In the XML used for SlideShowPro, all you really need to do is define the folder your material will be in (folder set up in Step 4 above), give your project a name and descripiton, then set up your actual slide show. There is a data set that basically defines each picture in the show, with the title, description and file name. I go through and add in this info for each photo. When complete, the XML file is placed in the same directory as the SWF and HTML file (“slideshows”).
  7. Here’s what the XML file looks like:

    <?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
    <gallery>
    <album lgpath=”gallery/album1/photos5/” title=”The Global Diabetes Research Center” description=”Emory has launched a Global Diabetes Research Center in collaboration with MDRF, a leading diabetes research institution in India.” audio=”gallery/album1/photos5/globaldiabetes.mp3″>
    <img src=”narayan.jpg” caption=”Emory University global health professor and foremost diabetes expert K. M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSc, MBA.”/>
    <img src=”mdrf_center.jpg” caption=”The Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) has a newly built research facility in India.  The facility includes space for Emory researchers.”/>
    <img src=”teamindia.jpg” caption=”Narayan on a recent visit to MDRF in India. Narayan was born and raised in India but has worked in both Scotland and the United States.” />
    <img src=”teleconference.jpg” caption=”U.S. and Indian teams communicate largely virtually, with monthly meetings via teleconferencing and constant emails.” />
    <img src=”familydinner.jpg” caption=”Narayan and his family share a healthy meal at home in Atlanta. Narayan is a professor of global health at Rollins School of Public Health.” />
    </album>
    </gallery>

  8. Once all the files are in place (SWF, HTML, XML, image files and MP3 audio), in the right locations, I have a working slide show I can look at. In this case, I can open up the HTML file and voila! the slide player works perfectly.
  9. Edits are easily made. Any edits to captions, titles, etc., can be done to the XML file without doing anything to the Flash. Changes to the player can be made by going into the master Flash file (which you should always save), configuring the component and re-exporting the HTML and SWF file.

As for placing the slide show on my web site, it took some hacks to accomplish, but eventually I came up with the idea of setting up an iFrame on my site that shows the slideshows HTML file. The reason I had to do this is that the slideshow operating only within the directory structure set up in the XML file, so I can’t just copy the code and plunk it into the main directory of my site. This is what the code looks like for an iFrame:

<IFRAME NAME=”FRAME1″ SRC=”_multimedia/_slideshows/globaldiabetes.html” WIDTH=”400″ HEIGHT=”356″ FRAMEBORDER=”0″ SCROLLING=”no”></IFRAME>

The iFrame is great because not only can I use, but affiliate sites can use it, just by pasting in the same iFrame code. (For this code in context, view the source code for the page.)

Four Patient Stores

Four Patient Stores

Video Player:
Four Patient Stories

For this last example, I want to show off how I used SlideShowPro to make available four videos produced by our marketing department. They are fully produced videos showing off research and clinical work at Emory by depicting specific patient stories.

Production for this player was similar to production on the regular slide shows. I configured the player in Flash, by setting up the component, created an HTML and SWF file, put the videos (in Flash video format) into a specific folder structure, and set up the XML.

This is the XML:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<gallery>
<album lgpath=”gallery/album1/videos1/” tnpath=”gallery/album1/videos1_tn/” title=”Four Patient Stories: Emory Health Sciences at Work”>
<img src=”depression.flv” tn=”depression.jpg” caption=”Targeting Depression: Story of a woman rescued from debilitating depression by the use of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), in DBS uses targeted high-frequency electrical stimulation.” />
<img src=”mammography.flv” tn=”mammography.jpg” caption=”Taking a Closer Look at Cancer: Example of how a stereo mammography screening for breast cancer, following a routine digital mammography, detected a woman’s breast cancer.” />
<img src=”heartregen.flv” tn=”heartregen.jpg” caption=”Regenerating the Heart: Manipulating stem cells may revolutionize treatment for heart attack patients like Carroll Payne, who was treated at at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.” />
<img src=”protect.flv” tn=”protect.jpg” caption=”‘PROTECT’ing the Brain: Emory University doctors are studying the use of progesterone in treating traumatic brain injuries, like the one suffered by Marc Baskett, profiled in this video.” />
</album>
</gallery>

There are a few difference when doing video, however. For one thing, I wanted the user be able to navigate between videos, either by clicking on thumbnails at the bottom of the screen or by going to a “Gallery” page. To do this I set up thumbnails (the size and locations of which had to be specified in the Flash Component) and put the thumbnails in another folder. Then I had to make sure the thumbnails and gallery were set to display (again, needs to be specified in the Flash Component). But that was pretty much it.

One great thing about this particular player is that later on, when I was asked to set up player for individual videos within this player, all I had to do is set up a new Flash player pointing to a different XML file, but I could use the same video file. So it really only takes a few minutes to do. Here’s an example of one of the stand-along player I set up for these patient story videos: Targeting Depression.

I hope that this gives the reader of a good idea of just how easy it is to take this inexpensive tool and run with it, creating a nice-looking, highly functional multimedia presentations without a lot of effort. I give SlideShowPro two thumbs up!

January 31, 2008

App Rec: SlideShowPro for Flash

Filed under: Apps,Flash,Multimedia,Photography,Web Design — wdarling @ 4:11 am

Part of the impetus behind this blog is my desire to spout off about topics — from politics to pet health to philosophy — that I’m passionate about but which might not necessarily by of interest to the folks reading my regular blog, over on LiveJournal. “App Rec” is a feature I intend to cover on particular passion of mine: helper apps for web development. As a professional web monkey / mistress / developer / hack, I’m constantly on the lookout for those sweet, cheap-or-free apps that don’t necessarily do everything but do one or two things very well and enable you to achieve a quality and quantity of work you might not be able to otherwise. Whether it’s a Dreamweaver extension or a time management tool or a file converter, these are apps that can make your day, maybe you week or month, when you discover them.

But on to the app!

SlideShowPro for FlashSlideShowPro for Flash by Dominey is an incredibly well-done Flash component for creating kick-ass photo and video slideshows. Essentially you get a tool which allows you to go into Flash, set up and configure a very nice interactive slideshow player, and then plop the SWF file into a folder with an XML file, graphics and/or videos, and audio if you want — and then get a very well-functioning, wow-inspiring interactive multimedia player. (Examples here, over on Dominey’s site.)

The SlideShowPro component comes with a laundry list of customizations, from the basic (size, background color, what controls to show) to the very granular and specific (caption formatting, transition style, timing), so you can basically check through a fun-packed menu of pull-downs and on/off switches and make the player your own. Meanwhile that’s the only part you need to do using Flash, because there are no pictures to import, transitions to set up, audio to lay in — that’s all controlled by an XML file and plopping in the media you want to use.

The XML file can be very basic (just a list of the media objects) or you can expand on it using descriptors, like title and caption. You can even link your media objects to web sites, so for example you could have the player show screen shots of various web sites (e.g. your portfolio) and then have each image be clickable. And again, this something you set in the XML file, not the Flash, which is a relief to me as I’ve always found setting up links in Flash to be overly complicated.

Another feature you can set up in the XML is audio and for that, all you do is add a path to your MP3. So you can have a slideshow with music, spoken content or environmental sounds, etc. Think of those cool multimedia slideshows you’ve seen in the New York Times web site, with the reporter or expert or artist narrating a story related to a newspaper article, while images illustrate it. With SlideShowPro, you can create something just like that in fifteen minutes. Moreover, you can create one player and then just by updating the XML file, make that one player point to numerous individual collections of media, giving access to a whole library. Your boss will think you are a wizard!

Over the past year, I’ve been asked to produced numerous online slideshows for the web site I work on for my full-time job, and though I’ve gotten better with practice (example), I still wasn’t satisfied with the quality or the time it was taking me to put them out. Two hours is really too much time to piddle around on a slideshow. Now with this tool, I hope to redo a lot of my past slideshows and create many more. These won’t only be slideshows with static pictures, however, as I plan on using SlideShowPro to create an embedded Flash video player. Instead of going to individual Flash videos that show up in pop-ups, users will be able to go to a single page and then flick through video collections just with a couple of clicks. What once was “OK” but clunky will turn into something slick and easier for users to, well, use! I promise to post examples as soon as I have them online.

Some possible uses of SlideShowPro, off the top of my head:

  • Display a web design portfolio with captions showing basic info, then each screen shot linking to the the URL (if online).
  • Tell a story using pictures and an MP3.
  • Demonstrate a product by creating a slideshow that mixes photos and video.
  • Capture an event, using audio recorded on site, photos and video, plus captions.
  • Great way for photographer or artist to show off portfolio — and bonus, images are in Flash, so not stealable (at least not easily).
  • Band or musician could show off their music with visuals, like say a live recording with shots and video from the show.

The possibilities! AND — how did I not mention this????? — SlideShowPro is only $29. That’s right, twenty-nine bucks! And there are numerous other cool features, like integration with Flicker, Photoshop, and more. But don’t take my word for it….

Got something to say about this app? Post away!

ADDENDUM: Check out my follow-up on this article, More on SlideShowPro, which features many examples of multimedia I’ve created with this product, plus a step-by-step guide to production.

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