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On appropriating gender identity

Or, why it actually does matter that Victor Johnson pretended to be a woman.

For years, even decades, there’s been no shortage of dialog about diversity. Biodiversity is important to human health and the planet.0 Workplace diversity can promote positive professional and economic outcomes.1 Diversity in the media can bring valuable perspectives2 that have otherwise, for decades, been mostly driven (at least in the United States) by white men of European descent. Conversations about diversity have become part of the fabric of our progressive society.

Tenderfeet studying diversity’s role in progress towards equity, civil rights, and social justice can be heard proselytizing, “I don’t notice the color of someone’s skin — we’re all the same,” or, “Women can do everything men can do,” or, “What you say is all that matters — your background isn’t relevant.” Unfortunately, these assertions ignore the core of diversity: We’re not all the same. Our differences are important. Our uniqueness creates the very lens through which we see the world. It’s the core of our identities. We can’t always do the same things as other people, for any number of reasons — physical differences, privilege, world view, mental state, personal and cultural history…. But differences mustn’t carry a value judgement. The differences themselves aren’t good or bad. But diversity is valuable because it disrupts homogeneity.3

And so, when a new plant is introduced to an ecosystem, a new person is introduced to a workplace, a new voice enters your news landscape, it tends to pique the interest of those who understand the value of diversity. We know that, in the best possible sense, this plant, this perspective, this voice might be just what the ecosystem needs to improve, to evolve, to increase its heterogeneity, and as such, its strength and resilience. (And we hope that it won’t become Audrey II.)


Smart, powerful people know that monocultures can become stagnant, change-averse, torpid.4 As such, we see some well-known names behind large-scale movements encouraging more women and girls to become involved in science and technology,5 helping them to overcome historical and systemic obstacles. Many well-respected men’s voices in the technology community (because, let’s face it, most of the strong voices in the technology community are men) have made it a point of supporting, advocating for, elevating, and respecting the voices of women, women who are trying to participate in a community that has historically done the opposite. Several men are doing yeoman’s service to try make women feel as comfortable as, and enjoy as many opportunities as, their men counterparts do. It’s a sea change.


Remember Rachel Dolezal, NAACP branch president in Spokane, Washington? Her cultural appropriation was an affront to people of color. She lied. She misrepresented herself, her past, her life experience, and the context of her message. She was offensive in her characterization of her fake self, taking on an identity that was manufactured by observation rather than experience. She deceived in order to avail herself of redress intended for others.

So what of gender appropriation?

Gender appropriation happens when members of the majority (in this case, men) decide that womanhood is a performance…Gender appropriation leads to womanhood being defined by people who aren’t women. It takes the control of women’s lives and identities out of their hands and into those who benefit from their oppression. —Jonah Mix

Gender appropriation is a big deal. When a man appropriates a woman’s gender, no matter what he says or does otherwise, his message is necessarily eclipsed by his character.6 A man misrepresenting himself as a woman in the tech world is a tidal wave against progress.


I smile when tech mavens invite less-known (but exceptional) women onto their podcasts for the first time. It was delightful to see a popular man in tech recently publish a list of interesting women bloggers who are now likely to see a well-deserved bump in readership. Other men have chosen to write long form, and with specificity, about the importance of women’s voices. If more men notice and emulate this behavior, something exciting and positive can begin to spread.

But.

What happens when they’re duped by a poltroon appropriating the gender of a woman, even lied to about hot-button issues to get attention? They’re deceived, and unwittingly elevate the voice of a fraud. When the fraud is discovered, what begins to spread is, instead, suspicion and mistrust. What will those progressive men do next time? It’s human nature for them to be more cautious. To at least look for proof. At worst, to avoid welcoming those voices until they’ve made darned sure that they’re not going to be duped again.

As a woman, my first fear is, “Will men be comfortable including me anymore? Will I have to share my photo, my voice, my contact information to prove the authenticity of my gender before I am welcomed? Do I feel safe sharing those things?”

“Or should I just continue to sit down?”

Here’s hoping that gender appropriation will not drown progress.


Some personal context
I studied computer science in college, back in the mid-1980s. I’d planned to major in it. I was the only woman in my first relatively large CS lecture course. While I did get along with many of my classmates, even those I was close to would figuratively (or, yes, literally) pat me on the head when I struggled with some part of the curriculum. Can any programmer say s/he hasn’t grappled, however briefly, with some part of a technical concept or syntax? But my struggles were labeled “cute”. Even my advisor tended toward dismissive — I was the only woman in his cohort, and I never enjoyed equal time compared to the men who were colleagues. All the CS faculty were men. Before I finished the first semester, I knew this was not a world I wanted to work in any longer. While I did go on to study — in fact, I did pretty well in — logic (in the Philosophy department, not CS), and continued to learn about programming with a few courses here and there, I switched my major to English.

Did my gender matter in this case? Of course it did. Was I welcomed into this established community of (virtually all men) computer programmers? Only as a novelty. (One lab group actually dubbed me the “little sister” of the group, even though I often coded circles around them.) Was I brave or mature enough to stand up for myself, to reject the discrimination? Nope. I was 17 years old. It was the 1980s.

I sat down.

I quit and ran away.

Now, it’s 2015. The world is different, and I’m again in the world of technology, as a web programmer. Decades after bending BASIC and Pascal to my will, I cut my teeth on HTML and CSS. Then Perl, PHP, and JavaScript were a natural progression for me. I started (but mostly skipped) the Ruby on Rails trend, but am recently picking up Python and R. And you know, it turns out, I’m pretty decent at this programming thing. (Well, good enough to have made a career out of it for the past twenty-mumble years). All this to say, I know what it’s like to be a woman working in tech. Sometimes, other people make it suck.


References

Libraries and Tor

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on the Tor network, although I do know enough to be a somewhat-informed user. I believe that the technical assertions I make here are fully accurate, but I encourage feedback on those points.

Tor logoThis morning, I read a ProPublica article about the implementation of a Tor network relay at the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire. According to the article, Kilton is the first public library in the United States to bring a Tor relay online, allowing “Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users’ locations” (Angwin, 2015).

Based on this article from the Library Freedom Project, I am led to believe that Kilton’s Tor relay was implemented as an exit relay[0]. Essentially, this would allow Internet users from around the world to have their Internet traffic appear to be originating from the Kilton Public Library. No matter that the user might be in Paris, Stockholm, Pittsburgh, or Sri Lanka, the traffic would exit the Tor network at the Kilton Public Library, which would then appear to be the source of the traffic. (See this EFF article about the parts of Tor networks, including browsers, entry guards, middle relays, exit relays, and bridges for a better understanding of what an exit relay does.)

A little context and background about me: I would like to see Tor browsers installed on every computer in every public library. A public library and its professional staff have, I believe, an ethical responsibility to protect the privacy of patron data, including a patron’s online activity. Facilitating obfuscated or hard-to-track browsing for its patrons is appropriate, and falls within the purview of a library’s service to its patrons. [1]

However, I think exit relays are an exceptionally bad idea for public libraries, and I would not support a Tor exit relay at my public library. There are several not-so-compelling reasons that I hold personally, but the one that I find most problematic is the use (and potentially high-volume use) of library resources (such as bandwidth) that have great potential to restrict the access to services for Kilton’s own patrons. While a library is, importantly, a hub of impartial, free information, a library’s first obligation is to its patrons. And while some librarians would like to think of every individual in the world as a potential patron, public libraries have a duty to their communities first. If a decision made by the library prioritizes the needs of non-patrons over the needs of patrons, then I believe it is a poor decision.

Traffic involving illegal activity that exits at Kilton’s relay has a high likelihood of exposing the library to government surveillance — even though that traffic had nothing to do with activities originating at Kilton. In fact, the Library Freedom Project capitulates: “exit operators might face the occasional DMCA notice or law enforcement officer inquiring about traffic on the node” (Macrina and Fatemi, 2015). If the FBI/NSA/insert-government-agency-here has evidence of criminal activity coming from a Kilton IP address, the first order of business is to investigate Kilton, its librarians, its patrons, and as much of the internet traffic originating from Kilton as it cares to. It puts the library on the government’s radar. It is also likely to result in other online services blacklisting or blocking traffic from Kilton, thereby unnecessarily restricting the activities of Kilton’s local patrons.

photo of a workstation desktop, which includes launch icons for 'Computer', 'Home', what appears to be a word processor, 'Google Chrome', 'Firefox' and 'Log Out'I do feel compelled to make another point. Nowhere in the articles I’ve seen about this issue have I read that Kilton is using Tor to support its own patrons’ privacy. (I may have missed this somewhere, and would appreciate clarification.) The Library Freedom Project does assert that Kilton’s IT infrastructure and patron-facing workstations are running Linux, rather than Windows or MacOS, which is great. But in a snapshot of one of the patron-facing workstations, it appears that use of a Tor browser is not available (at least not obviously).

A public library’s mission is first to support its patrons, as guided by its oversight body — whether that body comprises elected officials, a foundation, a private board, or something/someone else. I would delight in an initiative to provide Tor browsers to patrons, and perhaps even run bridges or middle relays through library network infrastructure, if the volume of traffic doesn’t come at significant expense to the library patrons and community (in terms of either performance cost, or dollars). Running a Tor exit node, on the other hand, does nothing to directly support Kilton’s patrons. Instead, it puts them at greater risk for government intervention.


Footnotes

[0] It remains unclear to me whether or not this node was actually an exit node before it was shut down. According to a July 2015 article in Ars Technica, the node rolled out as a relay node during the summer, but was slated to be converted to an exit node by September. Ultimately, I remain comfortable with my position on this point, as the Library Freedom Project’s stated goal is to bring Tor exit relays into libraries.

[1] Who a library’s patrons are is, perhaps, an important part of this conversation. In my opinion, the patrons of a public library are the people who are eligible, by geographic or associative relationship, to use the services of that library. So, a person who walks in off the street into the library building? Patron. Taxpayer in town with a library card? Patron. Person trying to route internet traffic through a random server to ensure privacy? Not a patron. Your opinion may vary.


Citations

Angwin, Julia. “First Library to Support Tor Anonymous Internet Browsing Effort Stops After DHS Email.” ProPublica: Journalism in the Public Interest. ProPublica, 10 Sept. 2015, 11:20 a.m. <https://www.propublica.org/article/library-support-anonymous-internet-browsing-effort-stops-after-dhs-email>.

Macrina, Alison, and Nima Fatemi. “Tor Exit Relays in Libraries: A New LFP Project.” Library Freedom Project. Library Freedom Project, 30 July 2015. Retrieved 10 Sept. 2015. <https://libraryfreedomproject.org/torexitpilotphase1/>.

The best…

I think it was this article about the best mechanical pencil that sent me over the edge.

The best pencil. The best. Pencil.

WHAT?

It’s a PENCIL. IT IS A PENCIL. I suppose this is the part where I say, “We’ve been using pencils for zillions of years, and they were just fine.” And really, it’s true. I do feel that way. A yellow six-sided pencil can do virtually any writing task. Need something pointier? A mechanical pencil is great. Click, click, click.

But why am I railing against pencils? Because in all this bloviating about what’s a “better” pencil/car/coffee/lightbulb/framework/messenger bag/cell phone/whatever, we’re losing sight of why we have these things in the first place. The goalposts have moved. Instead of being a good writer or artist or drafter, we just get the best pencil.

“But this pencil really helps me do my work better!”

Bullshit. Well, ok, maybe not bullshit. Maybe it does. But if you need a different brand of pencil to make your work better, your work probably sucks. If you can’t do what you do with a cheap mechanical pencil, I’m going to go right out on this limb and say that you’re not good enough at what you do. Most of the world’s best writing, art, and design was done by tools we now consider primitive. That’s right, as little as thirty years ago, if we were lucky enough to have a typewriter at home, it was probably not electric. Did the ancient Greeks need a particular mechanical pencil to design the Temple of Concordia? There were only 100 million people on the WHOLE PLANET at that time, and most of them couldn’t read, much less design these feats of engineering.

And you need to compare pencils?

Buy yarn and fabric, and make things. Buy mason jars, and put things in them. When new, truly new innovations emerge (I’m talking about home 3D printers, not new pencils), try them! But this unnecessary commercialization and incremental hoo hah development that make things “better” is simply pathetic. It’s a trick, to get you to argue about pencils (whoo hoo! More page views!), and to separate you from your resources.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore aesthetic improvements to our world. But remember, that new computer you just bought, it was designed with an old computer.

NFC or QR on your campus?

Most of us know now what QR (quick response) codes are — those mysterious square “barcodes” that geeks scan with their smartphones to do interesting stuff, like go to a web page.

QR code in blue and gold, with the letters URI in the centerYou can do lots of fun stuff with QR codes! Show off your mobile-fu. You can even edit your codes, if you’re careful, to use your school colors, or put letters in it, as we did at URI! And you can scan it from far away, if it’s big enough. Which, well, it usually isn’t.

But yeah, we know that most people don’t really scan them. Look at your phone, find your barcode scanning app, launch it, line it up, line it up again, line it up again…BEEP! Wait. Oh, look, an online version of the poster I’m looking at right here. (Or, to be fair, watch the video about the next stop on your campus tour…nice idea, huh?)

But have you tried NFC stickers? NFC is Near Field Communication, and it’s some new-fangled technology that is only present in a few devices so far. New Android phones from Samsung, Google, and HTC contain NFC chips, as do the newest Android tablets. iPhones, iPods, and iPads don’t have them yet, but it’s rumored there may be support for NFC in newer iOS devices to come. If you have a new credit card, it’s likely there’s an NFC chip in your card.

NFC works like the SpeedPass at the Mobil gas station, that little black bat they gave you for your keychain. Just tap your little black bat (or cell phone) to the red flying horse on the gas pump (or NFC sticker), and stuff starts to happen! Some progressive retailers in big cities are testing NFC for payment now, using Google Wallet on Android devices.

As long as your phone is on, just tap it to the sticker, and BEEP! There’s the…online version of the poster you’re looking at right there. But that’s where the similarity to QR codes ends. What if you could go to someone’s office, and — tap — download her vCard to your contacts by tapping the business card on her office door, whether she’s there or not? Or — tap — connect to a WiFi network (even a protected one, without having to enter a password)? Or — tap — set your phone to vibrate as you walk into the classroom? Or — tap — check in on social media? (Or watch the video about the next stop on your campus tour!)

Places such as Tagstand sell programmable stickers (called tags) at a great price. You can get big stickers and small stickers, stickers that hold lots of data or just a a little, even stickers printed with your custom graphics. There’s stickers for outdoors, or indoors, even stickers with enough space on them to print (gasp!) a QR code, for those unlucky folks without NFC. Tagstand also has a free Android app that allows you to create instruction sets and program new tags instantly.

Since I’ve been playing with NFC, I have decided that QR isn’t worth spending much more time on. QR tags are easy to create, sure, but there’s so much more value added with NFC, that seems worth evangelizing now! I’m going to create a tag for our building, which will take you to the online campus map, with the building selected, which will show all the departments contained within the building…I’ll let you know how it goes!

Why your home page shouldn’t be redesigned by committee

What’s the first reaction most higher edders have when they hear, “Time for a web redesign”? Of course it’s often, “OK, who should be on the committee?” Consider this as an answer.

“No one.”

Homepage and web site redesigns need, more than anything, vision, leadership, and strategy. A committee of disparate interested parties can’t really provide that. Who’d be on the committee? Representatives from academic affairs, admission, facilities, students, administration, alumni, athletics, career services, internships, registrar…

cartoon of a dysfunctional committee

How many of these folks have each other’s best interests in mind? Or would they, instead, serve on this committee primarily to ensure representation of their own use cases? Consider, instead, a redesign project that’s spearheaded, actually led, by a single human being who’s accountable to all those audiences, as well as accountable to another important audience not generally available to your committee — prospectives (either students, faculty, or staff).*

Where this person sits — academic affairs, communications and marketing, anywhere — doesn’t matter. Can’t matter. The leader’s charge is to ensure that all audiences are represented appropriately, all design and content decisions are made for defensible reasons (professional experience and even personal preference are defensible when there’s no other reason to support a decision, as long as it helps to meet goals, fits well, and looks good).

There are plenty of other analogous models for this kind of work in higher ed — look at what happens to a school when a new president is installed. We staff, faculty, and even students wait with high hopes, anticipating her new vision, what his experience and expertise will bring to the table. What kind of leader will we have? If this leader wants to stick around, s/he needs to have expertise and bring vision while serving all constituents. No representative committee can do that. We devalue the professionalism of our experts if we think a committee can do this better than a professional web expert can.

You wouldn’t want ten of even the best farmers catering your wedding — you’re best off hiring a single fantastic caterer. You wouldn’t assemble the world’s ten top plumbers to do the interior design of your spa. Find the best web content expert you can to drive your web project, and make him personally responsible for the project.

Design by Committee : Who needs vision when you have meetings?

And this brings up an important point. The leader of the web project must be an expert in web content strategy. Not an IT expert. Not a visual design expert. If you don’t have an expert content strategist, hire one before you try to start this project. Your expert must have a clear understanding of the higher ed web paradigm, and a firm belief that the needs of current students, prospective students, alumni, and everyone else can all be served by making brilliant UI, UX, and IA decisions.** Your expert needs to know, believe, and evangelize the fact that no one ever wants to be on your web site. Sure, web surfing was a recreational hobby back in the early ’90s when the web was novel and there were about four dozen sites. Today, your visitors are seeking information, and want to find it in the fastest, most frictionless way possible. Your expert needs to know how to make this happen, while showcasing your school for the best possible recruitment, retention, yield, development, efficiency, and academic outcomes (listed in no particular order). Most college and university web sites have similar audiences, and as such, similar needs. We learn from our peers what works best, which makes our visitors’ experiences more valuable to them. Your expert should be tapped into this universe, and understand how to use it and customize it to your own school’s unique goals and priorities.

All too often, a committee is brought together in place of that expert, serving simply as a mechanism to distribute blame when people become unhappy (and looking at most higher ed web sites, you can see why there’s a lot of unhappiness). Being the leader of a web redesign project is not ponies and rainbows and happiness; frankly, it can really stink sometimes. When you’re that expert, some of the people you’re trying to serve will initially mistrust you, and will call into question your decisions, your understanding of their priorities, your expertise, or even your appropriateness for the job. But that’s OK — because it’s their job to evangelize their own goals and priorities. Listen to them. Ask a lot of questions. Rather than defending your position, ask them what they don’t like, and how you can work together to make this project work for them. Explain why it’s important to do particular things not because you decided, on a whim, that it would be a good idea, but because it serves the need of another audience or content provider, with minimal harm to others.

Being the leader of a web redesign project is thankless. Even when the site is rolled out to much pomp and circumstance, the critiques (valid or unfounded) still come, and they are a bummer. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s not personal. A good web redesign leader doesn’t have a dog in the race, doesn’t have any one constituent’s goals ahead of any other. A good leader has read all the research, has gone to the conferences, has read reports of the focus groups and analysts, has attended the webinars. A good leader is an expert who knows what she’s doing, is a great listener, asks a lot of questions, and has a well-fitting flameproof suit. The fortunate one also has a supportive governance structure that ensures balance and accountability, minimizing decision-making based on assumptions or whims — even the whims of the most powerful committee members on campus.


* You might think that current students or the office of admission would be a good representative for the prospective student, but that’s not always true. Current employees/HR staff don’t always meet the needs of prospective staff. Current faculty/the provost don’t always meet the needs of prospective faculty. There’s a difference between “what we want to tell you” and “what you want to know”. Someone needs to advocate for the latter at least as much as the former.

** User interface, user experience, and information architecture.

Captioned radio?

From my friend Carole at CPB:

Audio/visual: Adding captions to NPR to reach a text-based audience

I find this wildly exciting!

Job announcement

MIT

Want to do web work at MIT, on OpenCourseWare? Awesome job, awesome boss.

More…

Trimming, streamlining…

President Glick

Have you heard about what’s going on at University of Nevada at Reno?

Closures: The School of Social Work and related degrees, academic programs and degrees in theater and dance, the degree major in French, the Special Collections Department within the University Libraries, and the Assessment Office.

I’m especially concerned about Special Collections. As Universities, we should be ramping up archives to digitize as much as possible before it falls to ruin. They’re doing some hard work in Reno…making some controversial choices.

Distributed maintenance is killing your higher ed web site

Printing press

The guy with the ink defines you

I’ve been at this higher ed web thing for a few years now (has it really been more than 15?), and have watched the landscape slowly change, from an awe-inducing grey screen peppered by a list of blue links (ah Netscape 1.0) to today’s jQuery libraries that continually answer “sure, you can do that” when faced even the toughest interface challenges, to the 4G(ish) mobile holy grail.

In that time, the most important shift has been from a focus on the technology to a focus on the message. The person with the printing press has the power — but we learned years ago that person is usually not the right one to compose your university’s message. Imagine the press operator with ink-stained hands running the newspaper printing press. Should he be the guy who’s also writing the articles in that paper? Taking the pictures, cropping them, and color-correcting them? Doing layout, proofreading, and design? Writing your marketing copy and crunching your analytics? Shooting and producing your video? Building your user experience?

Even more importantly, should the person who runs the press be the one who develops your brand and your message? The person who curates the marketing strategy that drives your content?

This is the puddle that the higher ed web has been muddling through for the past ten years. People with the global message — folks in communications, marketing, admission, enrollment — have been wresting the press from IT departments (who themselves had to become content experts years ago…wasn’t that an unnatural thing), but most haven’t been able to build a resource infrastructure to support the high-pressure hydrant of content that the school’s hundreds of content editors want to publish. Sure, one or two folks in public affairs can manage the home page, create templates, support content management systems, and do training on best practices. But shouldn’t there also be central oversight of the message? The user’s experience? What should be published, where, when, and how? Are technologists and departmental web content editors really thinking about recruitment, retention, yield, and reputation?

Here’s a simple example: One department lists all of its courses by the term they’re offered. Another lists them in numeric order. Still another organizes them by instructor, or by program requirement. And the prospective student’s mind boggles when moving from department to department, relearning each time how a department chooses to handle course listings.

This is exhausting for and disrespectful to our users.

Our users expect better. Our users deserve better. When they think of our schools, they necessarily think of them as a single entity. They don’t think of us as a rag-tag conglomeration of stuck-together entities — they think of us as a school. A place. An entity with a voice and a personality. And we need to present ourselves to them that way whenever we can.

Care and feeding is a real job

The problem of tech people wrangling the message has now become the problem of the message people wrangling technology, and the struggle remains. But the more insidious problem is when neither technologists nor messaging experts are responsible for maintaining content — which is the way so many higher ed web sites are managed.

“Add a link to that on the web site” the (dean | professor | administrator) says. And the (student | administrative assistant | professor of something or other who’s volunteered to help | departmental computing coordinator) who has the FTP or CMS username and password for the web site does so. No matter if it looks horrible, doesn’t make sense in context, eclipses the overall message of the site…that’s what someone with the password decided, and since they can publish it, they do publish it.

When does it come down? How good is the photo? Are there spelling or grammar errors? Have you created a page full of text that no one will read? Have you created a page full of links that boggles even the most organized mind? Did you notify anyone else, so they can link to it? Does it work? Does it improve or worsen the site as a whole? Most of the time, this isn’t considered — as long as you get it up on the web site, you’ve achieved your goal.

I think we need to raise the bar on our goals. Just “put it on the web” isn’t enough.

The password gives the power

Distributed responsibility for web content is killing our sites. It’s killing our message. When we need to be moving towards user-centric services, a unified and service-oriented voice, and a goal to meet high user expectations with a marriage of sophisticated technology and user-centric content, instead we’re pushing the web down the org chart as far as it can go, treating web content publishing as though it were a trade, rather than a profession. We should have a centralized cadre of web communication professionals responsible for oversight of every web site — not just its creation, but its lifecycle, as well. Imagine if we distributed payroll across departments. Or admission and enrollment services. You get the idea.

Michael Powers, director of Web Services at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, summed it up brilliantly in a recent comment on Mark Greenfield’s blog:

Many, even senior managers, still see the web as primarily an IT issue. The creation of web content gets pushed down to junior faculty and from there to administrative assistants and from there to students. All are well-meaning but lack the skills, experience, and perspective to actually create effective websites and web content.

That is, the creation of websites isn’t seen as a professional endeavor. “So you’re a webmaster? That’s nice. My teenage son has a website.”

It’s frustrating. Would it be ok if, instead of having a central health center for our students, we allowed each department to train a couple of grad students to provide health care?

We love our visitors

Those of us responsible for web publishing love our visitors. We really do. We live to give them both the information they come looking for, and the stuff they didn’t even know they wanted to know. We want them to have a good experience. We have invested our professional careers in understanding information architecture, user experience, marketing, branding, writing for the web — all the skills that make our profession unique. Can good web sites be created and maintained by people who don’t have deep and broad education and experience in web development? I don’t think they can. I might have a neighborhood teenager mow my lawn, but I’m certainly not going to rely on her for landscape architecture, soil analysis, scheduled fertilizing, seasonal grub control, weed suppression, and wintering over my prized rosebushes. She needs guidance and oversight. She’s not well-suited to the real task that needs doing.

When you leave your school’s web content in the hands of people who don’t have professional experience, you’re shortchanging your school, and your visitors. If your departmental web site has 20 navigation links (“There’s no way we could possibly get along with fewer, we have so much content!”), if you’re adding links to your site without thought of what impact that change will have on your users’ experiences, you may not realize that you’re actually jeopardizing the very fundamental perception of your institution. And of course, all of the decisions made about your site should fall into line with the university’s goals for web experience, branding, and messaging.

The quality of your web site should reflect the quality of your school. Instruction must be provided by qualified instructors — even TAs need oversight. Health care should be provided by qualified health-care professionals. And every shred of your web content should be strategic, professional, and awesome.

Lessons learned from Texas A&M University Social Media Scavenger Hunt | collegewebeditor.com

students at Texas A&MLessons learned from Texas A&M University Social Media Scavenger Hunt | collegewebeditor.com. —  Wow. Just…wow! That they were able to find the time and resources to do this, bring together all the constituents, the sponsors…I can imagine this was a heroic effort. The technology is already there, ripe for the picking. It’s all about organization, and bringing people on board, and it looks like they sure did!