Social Civility

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I have a secret weapon. I've discovered that sweet spot where using Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools brings my world of interests to my virtual doorstep. I find this incredibly useful in both my work and personal lives. As a result, you will often hear me giddily proclaim the wonders of most tools social.

However, as with so many wonderful things in life, this world has a dark side. In social media, social does NOT necessarily mean civil. I have watched, horrified as people I know and/or respect wrote seemingly hateful things that literally made my jaw drop. Worse, the writers have often attempted to disguise their harsh words within a snarky veil of ill-placed humor.

Part of the problem may be due to how some people seem to view social media. I've seen smart people and semi-celebrities partake in snark battles with followers. When questioned about it, they have proclaimed that they were joking...and after all, it was only Twitter.

News flash. Twitter is a service where real people connect and interact. We are not responding to bots. We are responding to real, live people with feelings, hopes, dreams. We should treat them as such, with civility at a minimum.

Recent events have personally driven home the realization that snark can become powerfully hurtful. Even when I'm certain that no malice was intended. Similar to how beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I've discovered that hurt is in the eye of the one in pain.

I'm sure you are all aware of the recent scandal that escalated to rock the Penn State community. As an employee and alumna of Penn State, the media firestorm and public outcry and backlash toward our entire community has been incredibly difficult to watch and process. During the worst of it, many people were extremely harsh and even threatening to any of us who were ever associated with Penn State in any way. It was both a scary and depressing time.

One bright spot in the darkest of hours came from a number of colleagues who reached out to us in many ways, including social media. Your support was very much appreciated and needed more than (hopefully) you will ever know. I wouldn't wish those kinds of experiences on my worst enemies.

A troubling phenomenon also occurred during this painful time. A few people who I thought were or would be sympathetic to what we were experiencing wrote or tweeted things that cut deeply. Mostly making snarky comments or attempting to be funny about a situation that was anything but. For example, a higher ed colleague tweeted out his amusement at a montage of hateful jokes done by the show South Park that painted our community in a sickening light. I'm sad to admit that it hurt, and hurt quite a bit. I expected such hateful treatment from the South Park show, but not the promotion of it from someone who I would have liked to consider an ally.

I learned a lesson through this entire situation that words can be powerful, both for the good and not so good. And please, if you are out there with the notion that your words on Twitter somehow don't count...DELETE that notion for the sake of all of us real, living, breathing, feeling people who use it to connect with others.

I will grant you that I can snark as well as the next person. However, the next time I'm tempted to poke fun, hopefully I will pause before hitting "send" and evaluate whether the snarky repartee really adds to the conversation or whether I am just trying to be witty. If it is the latter, I intend to at the very least consider whether my words (or tweets) will cause pain to those who might already be going through a difficult time.

Perhaps I've taken the long way around when attempting to get to the point. The bottom line is, words are powerful so please use your power for the good.


Doings and Newings

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It's been a while since I've given an update on the doings for the Web Conference. As a result, I have so much to say that I hope you have a few minutes so that you don't miss any of the good stuff.

First, the deadline for getting your presentation proposals in is quickly approaching. Please go to and submit yours today. You have until the end of the day on Monday, December 5.

Secondly, you will see a few big changes for Web 2012. One of the biggest ones has (so far) been behind the scenes. I've taken a step back (but I'm still deeply involved). For 2012, you will have two smart, fun and devoted chairs who will guide the conference to new heights.

Karen Hackett and Robin Smail will co-chair the Web 2012 Conference. Yep, you read that right (I'm so excited)! They have been key players on the planning committee for years and were a natural fit to step in when I asked for a change in leadership. Please welcome them and help me to thank them for their hard work, commitment, smart ideas and planning skills!

The next big announcement is also rather huge. We have a dream team of keynote speakers to go along with our theme of Responsive Web Design and the Mobile Web. Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) and Ethan Marcotte (@beep) will be our two featured keynote speakers at Web 2012. Luke will open day one of the conference with his talk on Mobile First on June 11 and Ethan will start off day two on June 12 with his presentation on The Responsive Designer's Workflow. Both speakers are highly sought after and respected thought leaders in their fields. We are thrilled that they will join us this year!

As you know, we are expecting even more attendees from outside of Penn State this year. It seems that our backchannel and the general buzz about the conference has piqued the interest of many potential new attendees. This will further transform the event in remarkably positive ways and will benefit all who choose to be there.

At some point, I expect you will hear from Karen and Robin on their thoughts, ideas and feelings about the Web 2012 Conference. That will be AWESOME!


Risky Connections

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Social media connection doesn't take a vacation. Staying connected is hard and when done well could be considered risky business. Over-share and people ignore you. Don't share enough and people ignore you. Too busy to share? People sometimes forget you and/or learn to live without you. Share while on vacation? Well, we've all heard those horror stories of homes robbed as a result.

So, how do you create authentic, sustained, meaningful connections? Sure do wish I had a good answer to that question. I've made every mistake in the book as I'm navigating through the sea of social media and interconnectedness. The good news (I think) is that the community I follow is a giving and forgiving community (which are much needed in my case). Once again, I find myself in the position where I will throw myself down at their feet and ask forgiveness for being so out of touch and not doing my part to add to the community. And ask that they give me another look, a hand up, or a cuff on the head for my neglect and then a handshake hello...again.

Some people seem to navigate the social media waters effortlessly. They know how to connect with others. What to say and when to say it. What humor will hit the right note. They fearlessly put themselves on the line, time and again. But most of all, they are authentic. I wish I were better at that!

I recently watched in awe as Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) widely publicized a very personal blog post of things she wished more people knew about her...then got several bloggers to follow suit. Confession: I really wanted to write a post about what I wish you all knew about me, but I sometimes have trouble finding the sweet spot between boring and over-sharing so I stopped myself.

I also admire my friend (both online and IRL) Robin (@Robin2go). She lives her life (online and otherwise) "balls to the wall" (her line, not mine). She gets it, this connection stuff. I watch as people flock to her blog, respond to her tweets, and wrestle for her attention when she is speaking at an event. All the while she makes them laugh and gives a genuine sense of herself without regret (and seemingly without effort). Bravo, friend!

And as an example of how this connectedness seems to work, as I am pondering my place and writing these words, another friend (@micala) tweeted a blog post that eerily fits in with these thoughts while asking, "Are You Full of Awesome?" Somehow, I don't think this was a coincidence! And it isn't the first time she has shared words of wisdom that have hit home at the right time. Thank you, Shannon!

So, the moral of this story (yeah, so I rambled a bit) is that in order to connect and connect well, we need to take the risk and put ourselves, our ideas, our passions and our wisdom out into the world and allow the passion, the wisdom and the ideas to come back to us. And should I get busy and neglect doing my part, please feel free to (virtually) give me a cuff on the long as you shake my hand and say hello...again!


Too Soon for Traditional?

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A lot has changed with the web since 1998 when the Penn State Web Conference began. The conference planning committee has worked hard over the last decade to try and keep up with the changes and sometimes step a little bit ahead of them.

What brings this to mind is some of the feedback received about the Web 2011 Conference, wondering why we offered some sessions they felt were not about the web. The thing is, the web is so much more than it used to be, and so is the conference. The web is no longer confined to code, content and server. It is sharing information. Branding. Engagement. Conversation. Customer service. Teaching. Learning. Selling and buying. Exploring. Connecting. And so on. You get the picture.

Makes me wonder, how can we reflect these many faces of the web more effectively when we talk about the conference? Perhaps if we called it something different, being more explicit about the emerging changes in our offerings? But how do you capture all of THAT?

It would seem odd to claim that the conference encompasses more than than the "traditional" web since the web is still so new in the overall scheme of things that it feels too soon to call early web efforts traditional. However, the pace at which the web changes is exponentially more rapid than previous technological advances that perhaps that wouldn't be as unusual as it might seem at first blush.

What an exciting time to work in the world of the web. Who can guess where it'll venture to next?


Left Behind

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Like many people I know, I do my best thinking in the shower...or sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep. Ideas start flowing and sleep floats away on that fast flowing stream of thought.

What struck me early this morning (quite unexpectedly) was the notion of the huge gap between the morass of information, ideas, images and sounds that is now available on the web and how differently people learned information and communicated when my parents' generation grew up. What was particularly jarring was the realization that while we have worlds of information literally at our fingertips, there are some things that I fear may get lost in translation because we no longer depend on our parents to pass along what they know.

So, what made me go down this rather odd current of thought? I was thinking about when my children were babies. My mother-in-law used to sing to them constantly. She knows literally hundreds of songs that she learned from her mother and grandmother. She taught some of them to her daughter, but not nearly as many as she knew. Her daughter taught them to her daughter, but not nearly as many as she had learned. Her daughter sings a few of those songs to her sons, but only a few. Her young sons are more interested in what is playing on their mother's iPod.

What will happen to all of those songs my mother-in-law knows? Are they recorded anywhere? Will anyone care enough to convert them into the latest and greatest format for posterity? Or will they die a slow, lonely death...overlooked in a world where we think we have access to everything, but mostly pay attention to what is hot right now in music. Or what is hot to the people who are either the official or de facto curators for music preservation.

As the creators, movers, and shakers of today's web...whatever that may look like at any given time...we must consider what we create and how we create it. Are we virtually making information life or death decisions? What are the implications of that? Or does it matter? I'm sure that over the history of humankind, much knowledge has been lost as it was passed down in oral histories. I suppose in many ways this is little different. Similar outcome, different process. We just can't fool ourselves and think that the web contains all that is worth knowing.

I love the web. I live the web. I fear the web just a little for how it both broadens and narrows our focus. How will this affect today's children? Time will tell...

I guess that the moral is to sing to our kids and talk to them. A lot. And that's a good thing.


BBQ in the Summertime

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When I think of barbecue, I think of the Web Conference. Wait, what? Actually, that will be true this year. On Monday evening, June 13 we'll be holding a barbecue picnic at the Tussey Mountain Lodge sponsored by Adobe and the Web Conference.

When the sessions and workshops are over, you'll have just over an hour to get into your picnic clothes and either take the transportation provided from and back to the conference hotel(s) or meet us there. While the lodge is a rustic ski hangout now, in the summer it will also allow us access to all of the outdoor activities available at the Tussey Mountain fun zone. You will be able to either pay as you go or purchase a wristband to ride go karts, play par 3 golf, or get your X-Games on and use the outdoor skate park. The batting cages will only be available on a pay as you go basis.

This excursion is sure to be fun and allow attendees additional networking time in a more relaxed setting. The lodge bar will be in operation if you wish to purchase a beverage or two.

You will be asked to indicate whether or not you intend to go during the registration process. This is so that we may have the appropriate amount of food available.

Let's raise a glass and hope for sunshine, comfortably warm weather and making new friends.


The Ten Minute Makeover

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What's ten minutes in the grand scheme of things? Not much it would seem. However, sometimes ten minutes can make all the difference, as it will at the Web Conference this year.

The sessions will be shortened by ten minutes. This may not seem like a big deal, but what it did was allow us to add a block of sessions onto each day without lengthening the overall day. More content, more opportunities and then some. We also listened to your feedback and are repeating some sessions in more than one time slot and track. Hopefully that will allow you to attend most of the sessions you really would like to experience over the two day conference.

And oh, what incredible sessions and workshops await you at Web 2011! Check out the tentative agenda which we have again put on at:

Registration opens very soon. You'll have to preregister for workshops, so take a look at the schedule and be ready when the registration door opens.


Tick Tock

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I hear the alarm ticking and it is getting LOUD. It's almost time to open registration for the Web Conference and I can hardly wait!

Registration will open and close much earlier this year to accommodate the addition of 100 slots so that we may include Web professionals from other higher ed institutions at the conference. We've been moving toward opening it up to people outside of Penn State for several years now in response to increasing requests to attend from our colleagues both near and far.

As a result of opening the conference, we needed to move registration to a new system that will accept credit cards. No more need for an IDCC, which will greatly simplify the experience on both ends of the process.

What do these changes mean for you as a potential attendee?

1. You must register early. The deadline will be substantially earlier than in past years.
2. The registration process will be simpler with a credit card (credit card is the preferred payment method, though other options will be available if necessary).
3. You may receive registration announcements from the new registration system. These are not spam emails! If you attended Web 2010, you will likely get announcements in this manner.

I understand that change can be difficult. I hope that once you've tried the new registration system and experienced the energy and excitement from the addition of our external colleagues, you'll consider these changes a welcome improvement.

Look for announcements soon!


When Your Social Media Strategy Starts Without You

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Some days, you just have to roll with whatever happens. I'd call those "social media" days. With air quotes. You see, you never know what tidbits will show up in your Twitter stream or Facebook news feed and life can tend to follow that random (or spontaneous) pattern.

As a planner, I get comfort from well thought out processes and can sometimes stress over "winging it." Especially in my work. So imagine my surprise (and at first, not so much delight) when before we could fully conceive (much less implement) a social media strategy for the Web 2011 Conference, our social media strategy started without us.

Seriously! (Srsly!) Let me explain.

The Web 2011 planning committee has been moving at lightening speed this year, trying to get ahead of the curve created by changing from a Penn State only conference to one with a more regional, if not national flavor. Toward that end, we busted our tails to review all of the proposals received and pull together a two day schedule of webful delight.

Our next step was to send out acceptance notices to the speakers, letting them know that their proposals were successful and asking them to verify their interest in presenting at the conference. Almost immediately, Twitter blew up with joyful reactions, playful banter as well as plotting and planning from both Penn State speakers and those from other higher ed institutions.

On a good day, we might have fully anticipated this. Given our focus on getting the proposal review task done, it took us by surprise. And we are not social media rookies.

So started our social media strategy for Web 2011. Quite appropriately, it was spontaneous and off the cuff. And got started without us.


The Sky is Falling

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You would think that the sky is falling, the way this town is buzzing about President Obama's visit today. When you think about the preparation that must take place in advance of the visit, I'm sure that for many involved in that effort, sleep is a distant memory. All for a few hours with arguably the most powerful person on our planet. Wow, just writing that gives me goosebumps.

When I think of the weight he must carry on his shoulders, I'm humbled. It makes the stresses and pressures that sometimes threaten to overwhelm me seem trifling. We often use the word awesome in rather offhand ways, but I can't think of a better word to describe the sheer responsibility he must bear, every minute every day.

To get to where he is today took incredible effort, coordination, vision and support. Many people pulled together with a well designed plan to get him in to this powerful office.

One of the key players in President Obama's campaign will be speaking at the Web Conference in June. Scott Thomas was the Design Director and will tell a compelling story of how design and content on the web played a part in electing a president.

Won't you join us?

For more information about Scott, visit


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