Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

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A new look to show off skills and experience

Yesterday's look

Yesterday's look

You may notice that the site looks radically different today, after being offline yesterday.

I’ve switched to Darren Hoyt’s Mimbo 3.0 theme, for a couple of reasons.

Why are you changing your site, AGAIN?!

One is that I’ve always used this site as a learning experience. Learning about how WordPress can be twisted into much more than it was originally intended to be. Learning more about design. Learning about building communities.

The second major reason is that the content of the site has changed a lot since its inceptions. What started out as an experiment in blogging has become my home, a place where I collect all the various things I do online.

Now, I participate in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve started freelancing, both as a web developer and journalist.

I wanted a new way to approach all those things. To show what I can do, what I have done, what I’m thinking about and reading.

Where is everything now?

Today's Look

Today's Look

So, assuming you land on the front page, (and I know, most of you reading this are not) you’ll see several divisions in content. The most recent story is more prominent. A small right-hand column displays recent works and job experience. The middle column lists recent blog posts. And the ever-present sidebar? Well, that has remained largely the same.

The navigation has changed as well. I went back through my posts and have started to collect some of them into series pages. These are the drop-down pages you’ll see if you hover on the Archive link. I merged “Sink, Florida, Sink,” my road trip to NYC blog, into this one, while still making it easy to follow the journey.

Finally, I’ve installed the DISQUS plugin for comments. I really like the way they integrate comments that are made on social media sites and add tools to develop conversations on the blog.

Please help me out

There’s some tweaking to do, and a few more ideas I want to try out. I’m hoping you’ll all help me with that: Take a look around over the next week and let me know what’s working and what isn’t. What do you like? What do you hate? I’d really appreciate your feedback.

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Learning Web Design: 6 Blogs, 3 Cheat Sheets and 1 Degree

Over the past few months, I’ve been picking up quite a bit of freelance work. Most of it has been on the technical side of building Web sites. For the most part, I’ve been working with WordPress, so I can send a client a list of appropriate themes and let them decide.

In the scenario that I’m not using an easily theme-able framework, I’m stuck.

So, I’ve been spending some more time looking at design elements on various blogs, how colors and typography and borders are used to make even a simple layout look amazing. I’ve also been collecting resources to keep in mind when working on Web sites.

Six Blogs

  1. Authentic Boredom: Cameron Moll’s design blog.
  2. 24 Ways: 24 ways is the advent calendar for web geeks. Each day throughout December we publish a daily dose of web design and development goodness to bring you all a little Christmas cheer.
  3. Designm.ag: DesignM.ag is a new site that is aimed at providing a wide variety of resources for web designers and developers. The purpose of the site is to keep many useful elements, such as a blog, community news, design gallery, and job board all at one place.
  4. i love typography: iLT is designed to inspire its readers, to make people more aware of the typography that’s around them. We really cannot escape type; it’s everywhere: on road signs, shampoo bottles, toothpaste, and even on billboard posters, in books and magazines, online … the list is endless, and the possibilities equally so.
  5. Jason Santa Maria: This site represents an experiment in art direction online. Rather than allowing the content to flow from a content management system into the same page layout every time, I’ve created a system for fast design direction based on the needs of the content.
  6. Mark Boulton: This is primarily designed to be a portfolio presence for Mark but it also acts as a notebook, journal, experimental space and general dumping ground for designs, commentary and ideas.

Three Cheat Sheets

  1. How a Simple Layout Can Be Mixed ‘n’ Matched with Patterns, Photos and Backgrounds:It’s pretty amazing how much color and background can change the look and feel of a website. In this tutorial we’re going to put together a quick, simple but effective layout and then create variations using backgrounds, photos and patterns. We’ll also look at how to make seamless tiled backgrounds out of a photo, methods for ending a single photo and simple ways to create pixel patterns. In short it’s a jam packed tutorial!
  2. 8 Simple Ways to Improve Typography In Your Designs:Many people, designers included, think that typography consists of only selecting a typeface, choosing a font size and whether it should be regular or bold. For most people it ends there. But there is much more to achieving good typography and it’s in the details that designers often neglect.
  3. 10 Simple and Impressive Design Techniques: Simple effects and techniques are the building blocks of today’s designs. With a “less is more” mentality, we’ve selected 10 very simple and impressive design techniques that can drastically improve the performance and appearance of your designs.

One Web Design Degree

  1. The Personal Web Design Degree: The personal web design degree is the response of one designer to the question “What do I need to study to become a web designer?” The truth is that all the information needed to obtain a functional knowledge of web design is out there just waiting to be read. The only thing stopping most designers from doing so is sifting through all the information and knowing what is worth reading.

What are your favorite design resources? Where do you get inspiration?

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News Web site user interfaces

Patrick Thornton wrote about user interfaces today, and how news Web sites are so loath to move away from an interface that mimicks the print product.

The last time I visited a news Web site, I was an employee of the paper working on code changes. I’m not counting clicking through to articles, but deliberately going to the home page of a site.

So Where Do I Get News?

I get my news from a couple of sources:

  • Google Reader, where I’m subscribed to over 400 blogs and news sites (including a personalized version of Google News), in addition to recieving shared content from all my friends
  • Twitter, where I follow over 400 users, mostly journalists
  • The AP Mobile News application on my phone. Great for the long commute to work.

Why Don’t I Go To News Sites?

Because they don’t give me what I want. Because I prefer serendipity.

I’m interested in a lot of things and a lot of places and a lot of people. There isn’t one place where I can get all the information I want. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to spend all day bouncing from site to site, hoping someone wrote or produced something I care about.

The other reason is this: A lot of people complain about the Internet being an echo chamber. To some degree, this sucks. I have to scroll through a bunch of work that is the same concept iterated over and over.

But, since I don’t visit news sites, I also don’t see the hierarchy that editors and readers have placed on certain stories. The echo chamber mitigates this problem for me, because I can gurantee that if something is important (or even important only to a certain group of people…people I chose to follow because I care about what’s important to them…) I’ll see it at least 5 times in Google Reader and another 20 on Twitter.

Is a different UI (user interface) really going to change my behavior? I’ll still have to visit multiple sites. The river of news (a la Facebook or Twitter) can get really annoying when I’m looking for something specific. For me, that only works seredipitously. And those cool mapping UI are just cluttery and hard to focus on. To be honest, if I’m looking for articles on a specific topic, I’ll just do a Google search.

Thornton is right, though: news Web sites need to stop emulating print. But they need to do it in a way that actually helps the users. We’ve learned certain behaviors when looking for content online. There are rules that we expect Web sites to follow, and when those are bent too much, we get frustrated. Not good for news sites.

So the question is, without breaking basic UI rules or being gimmicky, how should news sites be designed differently?

Edit: Check out the comments for a discussion between Aron Pilhofer and myself about user interface vs. user interaction.

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NOT Another Resolution: Learn Design

I deliberately left something out of my resolutions post last week.

I left out my recent efforts to defeat my greatest weakness: Design.

Forget about when I started building Web sites (age 11), my relationship with design didn’t start until I got into online journalism.

And I learned that I couldn’t design my way out of a keg. ::shudder::

For a while I thought I could get away without being able to design visual elements. I could shoot photos and video, I could program in Flash and code a site from a .pdf. After all, there’s a reason for having designers, right?

I was wrong. I learned that sometimes, there just isn’t enough designer to go around, and you have to be able to make your own decisions. Things move faster and more smoothly if I don’t have to go ask the designer about an element.

Also, there are design elements to everything else I do online, from customizing a Twitter page to visualizing data. I was going to have to learn.

But how do you learn design?

I didn’t take a class, or sign up for a workshop. I just started reading design blogs. Following designers on Twitter. Paying attention to what I liked about certain Web sites and what made them ugly.

And I’ve made progress. I’m not good at details, but I can spec an overall design that doesn’t make people wish for blindness. I’d say I’ve reached paper bag status (as in can design my way out of), but anything more is beyond me.

I want to get better, because I hate not being able to do things. And because Web deisgn is important. I know I’ll never be a designer, but it would be nice to have a touch of the craft.

So if you’ve got resources, blogs, Web sites, or people that I should be paying attention to, please let me know in the comments.

Edit: I decided to add in a list of what I’m reading.

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New Year’s Resolutions: Surviving in the Real World

Even though I graduated from college in May, I have trouble with the concept of not being in school. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I love school, and I miss all the things that come with it: being a part of a community, constantly learning new things, the surety of having something to work toward for the next few years.

Obviously, these are all part of living in the real world as well, but they seem harder and less tangible. I’ve lived in the Bronx for three months now, and I still only know the building super and the guy at the convenience store down the street. I’m so busy trying to make rent that I’m not learning the way I was in school. Sure, I learn new things on the job, but it’s very different. As for goals to work toward, instead of aiming for a degree I know I can get, I’m working toward a career in an industry that’s too busy trying to land on its feet to notice my efforts.

There’s no despair in this. Just readjustment. And resolutions.

I don’t need to be in school or have my dream job to learn new things or to be a journalist. I just have to carve out the time to do what needs doing.

So here’s a list of things I want to learn or do, regardless of jobs.

  1. Formally learn Javascript. I have some experience, but mostly in the vein of searching for the code that will do what I want, and implementing it. I’d like to be able to write a little on my own.
  2. Learn PHP. Like Javascript, I know quite a bit just from fiddling with websites (especially WordPress). But I’d like the formal knowledge that would allow me to manipulate databases without have to do a Google search every ten minutes.
  3. Write. I recently signed up at BrightHub, a science and technology site. I’d like to write at least one article a week. In addition, I want to try some pitching for publications. I think that my deficiency in published writing (due to a proficiency in multimedia and programming) has been detrimental to my career goals.
  4. Produce multimedia and web development projects. I want to keep my skills fresh, even if I’m not using them in day-to-day work. So each month I’ll come up some sort of project to work on, be it video, photography, data analysis…just something to keep me from getting rusty.
  5. Find a way to participate in my new community. I’ve been poking around community boards for the Bronx, and have also found some interesting groups in Manhattan. I want to get involved. There are also a few online communities that I’m a part of that I’d like to be more involved in.

I think these are good ways to be a journalist without the benefits of working for a publication. I’m still busting my butt to get a job in news, but until then, this is a good simulation.

What else can I do to be a journalist without the framework? What tips or advice can you give me for fulfilling these resolutions?

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TNTJ December: Online Branding

This month, the topic for Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists is

How have you built your personal brand and marketed yourself online? Have your efforts been effective? If so, please give some examples.

I wrote Self-marketing for social caterpillars describing both my branding efforts and the benefits of online branding for those of us who never learned to “work the room.”

What are you doing to market yourself online or maintain your personal brand?

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Blog Guidelines

Since I’ve decided to shed the SOJO identity, I decided to write the post I should have written 2+ years ago when I started blogging.

Editorial Guidelines

This is my blog, so I’ll write about whatever I want. Most times, that will mean something of interest in the realms of journalism, the media, or the Internet. But I reserve the right to deviate from those topics at will. Alternate topics could include my cats, life in New York City and movies/music my roommate exposes me to.

I will, however, promise to discuss all these topics in a reasonably intelligent manner.

I will not post negatively about any of my employers. I will not post content that has been declared “confidential” by any of my employers. I might remove content that my employers ask me to take down, on a case by case basis.

My views as written here do not reflect those of my employers. On the other hand, they are free to agree with me.

Commenting Policy

I’m a big fan of open commenting. But no spam filter is perfect, so I’ll remove any comment that I perceive as spam.

I’d prefer you not attack any of my employers in the comments, though you may feel free to ridicule me to your heart’s content. I’m a tough broad.

If you commented with something interesting or useful, I’ll probably respond. If I don’t, either your comment was silly or I just didn’t have anything to say. Take it as you will.

My personal contact information is plastered all over this site, so please feel free to e-mail me with anything you don’t think is appropriate for comments, including job offers.

Social Media

I use the handle “selfmadepsyche” across most of the social media sites I frequent. (Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Flickr…)

My comments on some of these sites will usually be less formal than on my blog. Feel free to contact me on any of these sites.

Conclusion

Mix two parts “my blog is having an identity crisis” to one part mild distaste for rules and you get an approximation of why this was written with so much snark. Add a dash of salt, and take it with the good humor with which it was meant.

I love this space, and I’m still trying to figure out how it should change as I go through changes in my own life. I want to share the things I experience and learn with people who are interested in similar topics. I want to grow as a writer, as a journalist and as a person. I’m hoping you’ll all help me with that.

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SOJO is dead, Megan’s blog lives on

I’ve decided to retire SOJO: Student of Online Journalism as the title of my blog.

Although I am always learning, and in some respect will always remain a “Student of Online Journalism,” my posts have been veering farther and father from that topic.

I will continue to write about “the Web, the media and journalism,” and my own experiences in these areas. I’ll probably write about some other random stuff too.

But I’ve graduated from school, and as harsh as the real world is in comparison, that’s where I live now. So, good-bye SOJO. But I’m going to keep writing.

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I write as an ESTP

I stumbled across Typealyzer today, a little app that analyzes the text of a blog and assigns a Myers-Briggs Personality Type based on the words and sentences of the writer.

These were my results:

ESTP – The Doers
(Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving)

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Analysis

This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test several times, and while I always come out with Thinking and Perceiving, I usually get Introversion and Intuition as well. Then again, I’m writing a blog, it would be weird if it came out with Introversion.

Read more about the Myers-Briggs Personalities.

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A journalist outside of j-school

…not quite like a fish out of water.

I graduated from the University of Florida 5 months ago, and it took this long to realize that while I brag that everything I know comes to me from Google Reader and Twitter, I knew a lot more when I was surrounded by other journalists.

I knew who the badass journalists were, I knew when and where the awesome conferences were and I knew where to turn for any other information I didn’t have at my fingertips.

Now I’m 1,000 miles away from that network. I don’t know anybody here, I don’t know where to look for all the things I used to know.

So my question today is, as a journalist learning to be out of school, where do I turn?

I want to know when there are good conferences or panels in the city. I want to forge relationships with other journalists. Where before I was guided by my teachers, I now have to do these things myself.

Any advice?