Easy, elegant web publishing for the Mac

The latest version of Steve Sande’s ebook Take Control of iWeb ’09 is out!

The latest version of Steve Sande’s ebook Take Control of iWeb ’09 is out!


I’m excited about this for two reasons. One is that I was the editor of the book, and it’s wonderful to see a project completed and released to the world. The other is that Apple’s iWeb’09 (part of the iLife suite) is a great piece of software for anyone who wants to do a simple, attractive website without paying a fortune or having to learn web design. The Apple-designed iWeb templates include pages for blogs, movies, podcasts, photo albums, and more. Steve’s book provides all the guidance you need to put up your site, including some amazing tricks for photo special effects.

I’m currently using iWeb ’09 to publish my own online resume and for a website I run for a friend. My resume is hosted on Apple’s servers as part of the $99-a-year .Mac service. But my friend’s site is hosted on a third-party server — this is the first version of iWeb that makes it easy to publish to any host you want.

Here’s a free sample from the ebook in PDF form.

Death in the age of Facebook

Over at Greystone.Net, the communications team was trying to figure out the appropriate way to note employee deaths on a company website. Who should write the notice? Should comments be invited? If so, how should comments be screened to avoid inappropriate ones?

Greystone.Net is a consulting firm specializing in online communications for healthcare organizations. Their senior VP, Neal Linkon, posed the questions to other communications professionals online. The responses were thoughtful, and illuminating. Everyone agreed that there should be employee obituaries, but there were a number of caveats about how it should be done.

I thought it was great that they shared the results of their research on their blog.

Ranting — a fine way to end up flat on your face

There are many rhetorical devices writers and speakers can use to persuade readers and listeners to their side of an argument. Ranting does not number among them.

ranting-color-istockThe rant is an obscure English dance step.

You’ll find discussions of it on arcane folk dance sites, one of which noted that at a recent social dance, when the caller announced a dance that included the rant step, people on the dance floor fled to the sidelines.

In English dance, ranting is difficult, exhausting — and sometimes dangerous: there’s a foot-crossing part where you can easily trip and fall flat on your face.

Isn’t it odd how much this all sounds like a description of the ranting that turns up on TV, radio, emails, and blogs?

I doubt ranting has ever changed the mind of a single member of the opposition (unless through intimidation). And if you agree with the ranter’s underlying premise, the rant seems even worse because the inarticulate, one-sided spewing undercuts the credibility of more intelligent presentations of the issue.

There are many rhetorical devices writers and speakers can use to persuade readers and listeners to their side of an argument. Ranting does not number among them.

(I rather like dicaeologia, though.)

When, why, and how to turn down a writing assignment

As a marketing writer, I get paid to write about a wide range of products and services for a variety of audiences. Some of what I write verges on the silly; other assignments are dry and technical; still others involve hard-driving sales language that verges on being over the top.

I don’t mind being asked to write in a way that isn’t my style; in fact, I relish the challenge. I couldn’t do it 40 hours a week, but for a shorter assignment, it’s fun.

But what I want to talk about here is those assignments that just…aren’t…right.

They might sound like just another writing assignment when the phone call comes in, but when I sit down to do them, the tell-tale clues appear. It often starts with a weird little twitching in my stomach. And there’s a narrowing of the eyes. I try to get started with a few sentences, but something just isn’t…kosher.

This is the point at which I’m tempted to call a writer colleague and whine, or go off and distract myself with a cup of tea. But that’s just a waste of time. Because when I return to my desk, the problem assignment is still there.

I  started to draw up a bullet-point list of the five top signs that something is wrong with an assignment. But then I realized there’s this simple litmus test:

Would you want your name attached to this piece of writing or would you be comfortable if it came to the attention of a potential client or employer, identified as your work?

If the answer is “yes,” you can probably buckle down and do the writing. If the answer is “no,” stop now. Move away from the keyboard. Take a deep breath.

Because you’re going to call (not email, but call) the client and tell them why are having “some issues” with the piece. If your client is the type who doesn’t hear or recognize feedback, you may need to state, clearly, “You need to get someone else to write this.”

They’ll either say “OK,” or, more likely, they’ll ask “Why?”

Tell them what makes you uncomfortable about the piece. Chances are, if you’d be unwilling to have it appear under your name, they’d probably be embarrassed to have it appear under theirs. Explain why, and they’ll be grateful to you for bringing it to their attention.

I recently had a client whose SEO consultant asked me to post a bunch of “anonymous” comments on rival companies’ blogs, touting my client’s products. I was able to show the client the story about the Motorola employee who did this and how he and Motorola got outed and humiliated on Boing Boing (“Motorola, could you please tell your viral marketer to get out of our comments?”). The client’s heartening reponse was: “Whoa! Don’t do it!”

A few minutes ago I got an email from an established Seattle website for female shoppers. The chatty introduction to their list of this week’s hot sales and events was this:

But there is one thing that never fails to make us feel like a kid… we hate staying home alone at night. Especially for long periods of time, like when our boyfriend goes on week-long business trips or our roommate goes on vacation. We are completely ridiculous about it. We end up checking every nook, cranny and closet for scary attackers at least twice before we climb into bed, seriously consider sleeping with a big knife under our pillow for protection (and would do so if we weren’t afraid we would end up hurting ourselves with it), and finally, we resort to sleeping with the lights and television on. We only manage to catch a few winks of sleep between all the worrying and jumping up to check out every little noise we hear. It’s exhausting to be a grown-up (a scaredy-cat grown-up, that is).

Well burn my bra and call me a feminist, but if a client had asked me to write that, I’d have been deafened by the alarm bells going off. What about you?

It wasn’t my client, it wasn’t my email, so I just clicked Unsubscribe. And I doubt I’m the only one who did.

Who you gonna call? Ghost bloggers.

I sit down with clients and figure out what they really want to get in return for the time they put in — or the money they spend — on a business blog.

Haunted by your business blog? You know, the one you were going to write posts for two or three times a week, but which hasn’t been updated since  — oh dear — Valentine’s Day?Ghost Blogger

Call me. I’m a ghost blogger.

I sit down with clients and figure out what they really want to get in return for the time they put in — or the money they spend — on a business blog. We start with these questions:

• Is the blog there simply to provide the fresh content required to move the site up in the search engine rankings?

• Is the blog’s purpose more complex? Is it a component of a vigorous, structured search engine optimization (SEO) plan, intended to get important keywords on the site for the search engines to find, and to generate links to and from other strong websites?

Either way, I can usually help. If the business has particular SEO issues (it’s a newcomer in a crowded, competitive field, for instance), I’m likely to recommend that the client work with a professional SEO analyst to make recommendations for keywords. This will focus the blogging effort and can also be applied to the rest of the client’s website.

Once we’ve established the blog’s objectives, I draw up a list of two dozen or more blog topics for the client’s approval, and write a sample blog post or two. (How do I find those topics? Aha! We’re into my secret ghost-blogger voodoo here.)

If the client’s happy with this preliminary work, we then decide if I will coach someone at the business to write the posts, or if they’d prefer to contract with me to write posts for them.

I’ve just completed Phase I of a ghost blogging project (topic list and sample posts) for a client and am hoping they’ll bring me on to write the actual posts. It’s a highly colorful business with dozens of juicy topics. I pride myself on being able to write about nearly anything, but it’s always nice if the subject matter meets you half way.

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