Humble Pie and Recruitment Video

One of the hazards of running a cutting-edge interactive marketing firm is you are expected to know everything, even when everything is changing faster than you can catch up with it.

While in Miami for a wedding, I had the opportunity to learn from a fellow blogger who made a comment about putting video into Wordpress.  This is embarassing, but I have to say that I didn't think you could put video into a Typepad account, because all of my earlier efforts had failed.

Adding a YouTube video to your site is as easy as adding a little dash of code, and I do it easily on Blogger.  For Typepad, it was not working so well, and because I never took the time to look it up, I never realized how easy it was.

You just disable the WYSIWYG editor.  That's the little tab to the right of Compose Post.   Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but too concerned clients, a guy who has been blogging for five years ought to know everything, right?  He couldn't even put video into his blog!

As I said in the title - I'm eating humble pie - but it's a valuable lesson - learning how to learn and being curious about what needs to be done is the most important part of blogging.  The word expert does not mean all-knowing - and oftentimes five years of experience is not as effective as one year.

So with that - on the post below - is my first recruitment video post - courtesy of Google Recruiting and YouTube.

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What's the Upshot?

Franki and I were married in Santorini, Greece, in the middle of a two week European cruise.  To commemorate the trip, we took over 6,000 photos with our digital camera, many of which were poor quality (I'm not much of a photographer), but there are some great pictures of some very famous places (she is very good).

But taking a good digital picture requires more than the initial shot, so photo-editing when you return home is a big deal. Ask any real photographer what their secret is, and the editing of the photo back in the studio is a big part of their final product.

There's a product we learned about that now brings photo-editing to the masses.  It's built by a company called Bellamax, and the product is called Upshot.  It's currently available only for the PC, and it's in a beta version, but as a private software, it automatically corrects light, color, contrast, red-eye and a host of other minor corrections that the average photo user (like me) can use to improve the overall quality of the pictures they take.

If you're curious - check out their beta version.

Steven Rothberg is famous and on NBC

Steven Rothberg, he of fame, just appeared on the NBC news.  I imagine this is just the spark NBC needs to regain their ratings dominance.

Take a look at this video clip of Steven Rothberg talking about blogs as tattoos.

There's much more to it, but the essential story is a good one - don't say anything on a blog you wouldn't want your grandmother to read, or see.

Especially if you're in college.

Applicant Tracking Systems

One of the benefits of not being inside is having the freedom to speak your mind.

From Robert Merrill at Good Recruits, we find out that Recruitmax has changed its name to Vurv Technology.

Here is the Vurv press release.

Vurv, Recruitmax - doesn't matter what they are called - I didn't care much for an Applicant Tracking System that was slow, busy in its design, and lacked credible tools for making sales calls.

  • I can see how an internal corporate recruiter could use Recruitmax to track candidates - the staging bar is very good at giving you a quick overview of where you are in the hiring process.
  • For TPR's, the slow interface (it's web-based), combined with the sheer number of jobs that are added made it more of a stumbling block than a complement to daily services.
  • The search functions were okay - but the initial rollout lacked geographical searches, or area code searches, which meant if you are in a large metro area, finding people close to the company you are recruiting for requires a lot of time digging.
  • Creating call lists was an exercise in futility (Both for recruiters and salespeople), not because you couldn't create them, but more because it seemed the people who designed the interface didn't appear to have any clue as to how people in the field did their jobs.

I knew we were in trouble when the Recruitmax software was given human attributes as a human being.  "It learns," they would say.  But computer software doesn't "learn."  Anyone telling you that is obviously trying to sell you.  What they meant was the computer tracked the searches performed and responded by matching the more popular searches and providing those more often.

Which is great, unless you have an untrained populace of recruiters who all think differently entering information searches into the database.

There were a couple of turning points for me with the software.  The initial rollout, I was okay with.  I like ATS, and in fact need a good one to function properly.  As the difficulties mounted in me using the software to work as an account manager, I received a sticker from the corporate office.

If it's not in Recruitmax, it doesn't count.  That little piece of corporate memorabilia ended up in the trash, and the monitor almost followed it.  I was frustrated because I couldn't get Recruitmax to work for me.  It was hindering my ability to do my job.  And the corporate office sends me a sticker telling me to learn it, or else. 

Despite protestations, it became very clear - using Recruitmax was a requirement to maintain employment.  For one month, I spent the last two hours of my day entering enough information in the computer after the day was done to ensure my usage was at a corporate minimum.

I no longer have this problem - but my former company no longer has my services.  I didn't leave solely because of the Recruitmax ATS, but it was a contributing factor.  Until I wrote this post, I'd be willing to bet that no one in my former organization ever told the executives they lost good employees to a software purchase.

They never bothered to ask.  And I'm willing to bet this post won't show up in the next Vurv press release. 

Design as the New Technology

There's an old story that runs in engineering circles about a group of engineers who were laid off from a major manufacturer.  To protest their condition, they formed picket lines in public with signs that read "Will build a bridge for food."  The context ran that engineering was a highly specialized skill requiring years of training, but the lack of projects forced these people on the streets - because there was nothing left to build.

Technology had caught up with a specialized skill - leaving those who built the discipline behind to start new careers.  In the real world - this happened with the aerospace layoffs and mergers of the early 90's that caught McDonnell Douglas engineers in the midst of a transformational economy. 

Those layoffs, in a economy with 10% unemployment, were a devestating blow to the field of aeronautical engineering.  Men who banked their livelihoods on having a job for the rest of their lives found themselves obsolete - forced to change or left to fail with nothing when the company (now Boeing) did not hire them back.

Can this happen to Information Technology?  It already is happening, and you're reading the results.  This blog, written on a Movable Type Platform, allows me to mimic the development skills that programmers used in the mid-90's to create personal websites.

This site, with my little skill, can now be built without using any of the old computer languages, but more important, none of the new.  I build in a WYSIWYG editor - and this is a feature, not a bug of the new economy.  The design of the site is still poor, but that's my failing as a designer.  The tools are still here. And if I take the time - I can change this site without learning the code.  The technology allows me to skip learning the highly specialized skills of a developer.

Jim McGee at tthe Enterprise Systems site has a good article on Design as the important skill in a 21st century economy.  (I pulled this from his column at Corante, Future Tense.

My high-school friend went on to become a successful chemical engineer. He's definitely a smart guy. His mantra was “just give me the equation.” Give him the formula and he’d return with the right answer. Ted was successful in a school setting and he’s been successful as an engineer. While he’d probably still be successful in school, I don’t believe he’d do so well in the economic world we live in now. While execution was the signature skill of the 20th century, success in the 21st century will depend on our design skill: our ability to invent and craft new solutions to our problems.

My wife is a designer.  From her I've learned quite a bit about how designers approach solutions, but also how the failure of developers and programmers to address design has led to their planned obsolescence in the history of the web.

I have three words for you. Object Oriented Design.  What's the point of OOD if it is not to simplify the coding process?  Software developers, in creating these wonderful tools that allow untrained amateurs like myself to post to the web, have put themselves in a position where fewer and fewer developers are needed.

This trend is not limited to software  Desktop technicians and Help Desk employees are finding their salaries crunched as the need for truly experienced personnel is minimal at best.  Why hire someone for $60,000 when a kid out of school can do the job as part of their normal work for $30,000?  Experiences with computers at an early age means kids are Power users when their parents are sill fumbling to send out an e-mail list.  If the kids know more than the Help Desk techs, how can you justify raises, salaries and promotions inside a corporation?

You can't, which is why infrastructure projects are increasingly outsourced to specialty companies who only do infrastructure, while experiend and expensive network techs are finding their only hope of making the good money is starting their own business to server as a outsourced version of IT for smaller companies.

This topic grew beyond my ability to address in a single column, but the goal of the column is to highlight the coming obsolescence of many of the fields in technology we take for granted.

The future of large corporate IT departments will be for business analysts, project managers, and designers - souped up versions, to be sure, but soft skills emphasized over hard skills with the exception of a few very talented technical wizards.  Your comments are welcome, but there is far more to this now that I got it started.

Jakob Nielsen on Weblogs: The Critique II

Yesterday I questioned the validity of the weblog design styles that Jakob Nielsen describes as best practices for usability

I was thinking last night, right before I drifted off to sleep, that the main problem of Usability in the Blogosphere is the lack of unnderstanding that so much of corporate marketing is about the packaging.  What makes weblogs refreshing is their man on the street approach to life. 

This is important for companies to understand, because we've reached a point in our culture where the "man on the street" is more believable than anything you read on a corporate website.  Slick packaging, killer graphics, and buttons going in the right place may enable readers to quickly surf a site - but slick sites make me put my guard up. I don't want a slick site - I want a site where I'm involved in a conversation, and the people I'm writing too are trying to hear that conversation and contribute.

This community mentality is exactly what Nielsen doesn't get - and in general, the "design mentality" isn't ready for.  Nielsen has defined weblogs as websites.  If you start from that premise, you're bound to get it wrong from the get-go.

Today we tackle his points 4-10.

4. Links Don't Say Where They Go
Many weblog authors seem to think it's cool to write link anchors like: "some people think" or "there's more here and here." Remember one of the basics of the Web: Life is too short to click on an unknown. Tell people where they're going and what they'll find at the other end of the link.

Generally, you should provide predictive information in either the anchor text itself or the immediately surrounding words. You can also use link titles for supplementary information that doesn't fit with your content. (To see a link title in action, mouse over the "link titles" link.)

A related mistake in this category is to use insider shorthand, such as using first names when you reference other writers or weblogs. Unless you're writing only for your friends, don't alienate new visitors by appearing to be part of a closed clique. The Web is not high school.

This attitude is one of the issues I have with Nielsen.  The Web is not high school?  Don't be one of the cool kids?  He needs to get involved out there more if he thinks that the Web is some pristine portal of pure thought.  Cliques get a nasty name - but collaboration and communities do create an "grou pidentity" that resembles the real world. 

Online writing is not the same as writing for a column or for a website.  There are rules to learning it, and there are rules for reading it.  Learning to click here may not fit pure usability standards, but it sure makes it easy to click HERE.

Trying to read source materials without interrupting the flow of the author is hard enough.  Adding vague references is a way to get you readers to click on source material.  This is only possible if you already have a built-up readership that trusts your judgement, but taking the time to label every link is one of those top-heavy, do this because it's in the style guide type of commands that frankly turns more people off than it helps. 

5. Classic Hits are Buried
Hopefully, you'll write some pieces with lasting value for readers outside your fan base. Don't relegate such classics to the archives, where people can only find something if they know you posted it, say, in May 2003.

Highlight a few evergreens in your navigation system and link directly to them. For example, my own list of almost 300 Alertbox columns starts by saying, "Read these first: Usability 101 and Top Ten Mistakes of Web Design."

Also, remember to link to your past pieces in newer postings. Don't assume that readers have been with you from the beginning; give them background and context in case they want to read more about your ideas.

This is great advice.  I would add only that you refresh your best of links regularly.  You can expect that some of the stuff you are very proud of readss much differently once you have some experience under your belt.  Wait until you send a link that has a dozen typos to someone, and you'll know what I'm talking about.  Worse yet, wait until you go back and realize just how poor a writer you were when you started.   If you don't find this, you haven't been blogging enough.

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Streamserve definition

I mentioned I had a Streamserve consultant yesterday - but maybe you don't know what StreamServe is.

StreamServe provides document output management, form design and intelligent output channels for SAP, Oracle, Movex, IFS and many more ERP systems. It converts ABAP, SAP Script, XML, and any ERP information into enterprise printing or electronic documents. Any document within the ERP system can have its content intelligently changed and be automatically routed to any output channel, eg: print (AFP, PCL, PostScript and more), PDF, XML, Fax, thereby cutting the cost of producing and distributing documents. In an enterprise environment, such document output management can save millions of dollars, thereby delivering good ROI.

So if you're looking for an expert -

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Essbase: Pumped Up Data Analysis

The following is a posting by Todd Binenstock, an Essbase expert who currently lives and works in St Louis.

What’s a business user to do when he outgrows Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3?

That’s when Essbase shows its muscle.  Essbase, a product of Hyperion Solutions, Inc., originally stood for Extended Spread Sheet Database.  We who work with it often refer to it as a spreadsheet on steroids.   To understand what all of this means, you need to know a little bit about what spreadsheets mean to business users.

Compared to Java, SQL, CORBA and C++, spreadsheets are pretty low tech.  They’re like an accountant’s ledger sheet, brought to life on a computer, with columns and rows for text and data with the ability to enter formulae to reflect needed business calculations, such as sums, price times quantity, year over year growth, percent of total, etc.  This may sound pretty ho-hum to the technically proficient, but accountants and financial professionals get pretty excited about this capability.  They can produce balance sheets, income statements, sales reports, inventory analyses, etc. – all without any programming.

So why the need for steroids?  Well, spreadsheets have their limitations.  They’re really two-dimensional representations of a multi-dimensional world.  For instance you can use a spreadsheet’s rows and columns to represent financial accounts and time periods, respectively.  Those two dimensions describe the data on the sheet.  But what about other important dimensions such as department, business unit, customer, product, etc?  For larger businesses it is important to add such additional dimensionality for finer detail of analysis of the business.  And once you have this detail, you have a lot of information to deal with.  Users have typically linked multiple spreadsheets together in delicate and complex web that quickly becomes hard to work with and harder to maintain.  That’s when your spreadsheet starts to look like the 98 pound weakling and Essbase looks all pumped up.  That’s because Essbase has everything needed to handle all that data.

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