21NTC Field Notes: Day 3

  1. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  2. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  3. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 3

WordPress Community Conversation

I started my day with a third and final WordPress community session.

We had a great brief conversation about the challenges around using automatic machine translations on websites:

  1. Assessing dangers of mistranslation of medical, legal, etc. terms
  2. Implying that you provide services in languages where you don’t have any staff capacity

These are thorny questions my clients run into, and I still don’t have great answers.

We also talked about the wonders of a good staging site to test changes and WordPress updates and also hosting and scaling (when you get lots of traffic quickly).

Intentional Facilitation Choices: Creating Online Meetings for All to Enjoy

Cindy Leonard, Griffen Castillo, Jeanne Allen, John Kenyon
Collaborative notes for “Intentional Facilitation Choices”

The presenters needed to walk their walk by running an inclusive and accessible presentation. That included these techniques (I probably missed a few):

  • Described images on the slides
  • Described their appearance when introducing themselves
  • Shared their pronouns
  • Acknowledged they’ll mess up people’s names and asked for corrections
During the Meeting: Record the meeting if possible so attendees can play back later at their own desired speed. All speakers describe themselves and their background during introductions or before speaking for the first time. Read text on each slide and describe any images that aren’t purely decorative. Use plain language, explain jargon, acronyms, etc. Speak clearly and slowly enough to be understood. Give sufficient time for breakout room, exercises, respond in chat, and other interactive activities

To manage meeting dynamics and make them inclusive and manage power dynamics:

  • Discuss visions for inclusion with those with privilege to get buy-in on strategies.
  • Ask participants about their needs up front (ideally during planning)
  • Set guidelines for participants
  • Communicate about recordings ahead of time and allow folks to opt-out of recordings
  • Provide downloadable and printable copies of all documents/presentations
  • Using a talking protocol

Question: How do you handle “talking pieces” online? Use the chat or put all people’s names on a slide.

Question: Best way to balance recording a session for accessibility with allowing people to opt-out of recording for privacy or any other reason? Suggest people who don’t want to be recorded turn their cameras off. You have to think carefully about when you are recording online meetings.

Inclusive Activities

They highlighted that when using 3rd-party tools, have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work.

“Chatterfall”: Have everyone type a topic, thought, question, or whatever to start a discussion into the chat but don’t hit send immediately. Then have everyone submit the message at the same time. This gives everyone a chance to speak and prevents fast typers and talkers from taking over a discussion.

Jamboard: We had people place their initials on a spectrum to capture opinions. It seems like a great tool

Google Docs: Put everyone’s name into a document (or a table for people to fill in) and then give everyone time to type into the document. Alternately, assign people by first/last name to be in a “Pro” or “Con” group when making a decision and so people are forced to consider both sides.

Reflection Questions

The presenters asked us to reflect on the following questions and you should too!

  1. How can I improve how I address what people need?
    • I shared the importance of proactively practicing inclusive techniques. Multiple people added the good idea of sharing agendas ahead of time to help people prepare.
  2. What can I do to provide an excellent experience for everyone?
    • Sometimes I know I’m frustrated in a group where I feel like the leaders could be doing more to be inclusive and engage with the full group. In those moments, I want to focus on being a great, accessible, inclusive participant.

Beyond TikToks & Tweets: Long Form Content Strategy

Chandra Hayslett, Emily Patterson, Nathan Gasser
Collaborative notes for “Beyond TikToks & Tweets”

What is long form content? It’s a single piece of content that takes a while to produce, is many pages long, and released all at once. These are most often posted as a PDF. Think: white papers, annual reports, etc.

So what's the problem? PDF documents aren’t great for reading online, difficult to navigate, hard to skim/scan/search, hard to read on mobile, poor accessibility, no interactivity, video, maps, dataviz, personalization… lousy SEO, limited social sharing, useless analytics
So what's the solution? Native web content (aka HTML). How do we do that? Some strategies, in increasing order of complexity… 1. Create "gateway pages" for your PDFs. 2. Use a "story builder" tool. 3. Create an interactive microsite for the report.

Three relevant resources related to this session:

There are a number of third-party tools for creating interactive long-form content. The presenter mentioned that these are often very specific and so may not fit your exact needs. Some tools shared by participants included:

First thing to do is building “gateway pages” for PDFs. These are web pages that describe a report (summarizing its contents) and make it easy to download/view.

Example Gateway Page: Features Good amount of text (750-2500 words) that makes good use of the document’s relevant keywords (for SEO), Prominent download link(s) that indicate the file format (ie PDF) and the file size (50kb, 35mb, etc), Where appropriate, offer multiple download versions (executive summary, full text only, text + references, etc), PDFs should be optimized for download by reducing image sizes as needed.

Another good solution is to make a microsite. In this situation you break up the document into multiple pages with navigation to move through the report.

Interactive Microsite: Features Full text, images, charts, etc from your report available to read online, with no downloads, Responsive, accessible, standards-compliant HTML, Prominent navigation menu that lets you move through the document quickly

As the presenter shared (and I strongly agree with), posting web pages opens up your report to include multimedia, forms, calculators, worksheets, interactive data visualizations, and more! I’d add to that that content can be responsive (easy to engage with on phones), accessible, and faster to load.

Analytics for Long Form Content

Basic analytics tell us whether people go to pages but not if they really are reading it. They also don’t capture things like the category/topics of information people are most interested in.

Google Tag Manager (GTM) can help with this. GTM tells Google Analytics about what content to track and how to track it. For instance, GTM can do “scroll tracking” to see how far down a page people get. Using the “data layer” feature of GTM also allows categorizing of content for integration with your other Google Analytics data.

To put this to use, a presenter shared an example of looking at which topics generated the most email signups vs. views. You could use that to create new content if trying to develop more newsletter subscribers.

An example of an online report using these principles was shared in a brief case study: ALEC Attacks.

Great point: If you have a document that is meant to be used (like a handbook), then PDFs are a terrible format for that because people usually just need a single section or need to jump around in a way links provide but scrolling makes hard.


Community Conversation: “Website Best Practices”

This was a wide-ranging conversation that got to way more than just websites. At one point, we all stood up and jumped around to wake up from our digital conference malaise!

A few other notes:

  • We had people moving to Squarespace and leaving Squarespace. The grass is always greener!
  • Wireframes can be a useful tool for testing ideas without getting attached to content, especially when doing forms of participatory design. However, they need to follow a communication plan or similar to clearly explain content.
  • Before a site migration, do a content audit:
    • Use analytics for page views (what users think is important)
    • Have different groups of people define what they think is important
    • Then work through those dropping as much content as possible (and centering user needs)
    • Use this as a chance to get rid of PDFs (see above)
    • People will shout if you drop a piece of content they were relying on
    • Make sure to set up redirects for removed content so traffic is sent to somewhere useful

Design with empathy and agility to create equitable products

Joel Alcala and Terea Macomber
Collaborative notes for “Design with Empathy and Agility”

This was a fabulous case study about using a very intentional design process to make a tool to increase equity.

In technology, we must always fight against “Conway’s Law” (this is a useful frame for the keynote following this).

Conway's Law (Melvin Conway, 1967): "Any organization that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's structure."

That’s more than just navigation’s that match the org chart. (Though those are also bad!)

A system build in society with a history of sexism will tend to lean towards "solutions" that reinforce sexism. A system built in a society with a history of racism will tend to lean towards "solutions" that reinforce racism.

Their goal was to break Conway’s Law. That required empathy with their users and agility in how they worked. They used “Working Agreements” with their team to try to build an open equitable working environment for the project and with their consultants.

1. Create space for learning and failure. 2. Assume best intend but attend to impact. 3. Make space, take space. 4. Teach, don't preach. 5. Feedback is an offer. 6. Practice active listening.

No matter what we do, we always bring part of ourselves into our work. So it’s critical that we acknowledge that, reflect on that, and work to redesign processes to challenge bias and build a more equitable product (and community!).


Closing Keynote: Grief and Grievance in a Digital Age

Malkia Devich-Cyril, founder of MediaJustice. Recent article in Wired.

I didn’t expect to take many notes in this session while I just focused on listening, but it was too good not to keep writing down important takeaways. My notes do not remotely do this talk justice.

While we have all had a painful year. We have not all had the same year.

Malkia Devich Cyril
Chart title: A persistent digital divide. As annual family income increases, the likelihood of having home internet increases. However, for all income brackets, whites have more internet access than Hispanics who have more than Blacks.

Without the internet people couldn’t:

  • Receive public health guidance
  • Attend school online
  • Even access entertainment and distraction
  • Grieve the loss off loved ones with friends and family

The isolation caused by the digital divide has combined with other structurally racist systems to cause an epidemic of Black grief.

The tech industry furthers social divides by creating massive wealth for people who already had easier access to wealth.

The media ecosystem drowns us with information but deprives us of insight. It drowns us in content but denies us context. It agitates us with hysteria, but fails to direct us with history.

Malkia Devich Cyril

Technology follows the dynamics of power. It doesn’t change them.

It's time for bold interventions. It's time for a Digital New Deal. Defund and divest. Unionize workers, use antitrust legislation. Net Neutrality and universal broadband. Election security. Fight disinformation, rejuvenate journalism. Confront climate change. Protect online speech and data privacy.

“The people closest to the pain, should be the closest to the power.”

Ayanna Pressley

It’s the responsibility of an activist to live in three places at once:

  1. Understand the history of where we’ve been
  2. Be with people in the present
  3. Look to the possibility of we can, need to, and must be if we want the planet to survive

Question: People talk about “transformative” efforts but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of transforming going on: Nonprofits are corporations in a corporate society. How much will we let that determine how we work and how can we align our values with the collective community?

We must accept and acknowledge what we do not know. You learn and innovate and win by failing and trying again.

Questions: What does it mean for technologists to try to make change while relying on problematic tools? It’s no different from relying on democracy while trying to fix it or living in a capitalist society. There is an inherent contradiction in most things, and we must have both a “strategy for now” and a “strategy for later”. We limit ourselves and our goals based on what’s possible without dreaming of what could be achieved in 10 years.

Remaining “neutral” means aligning yourself with existing systems of power. Everything is informed by perspective, experience, and positionality. It’s easy to hold a tremendous amount of power (whiteness, male, etc.) without feeling like it as you focus on your experiences and can’t see the structures of society. We must abandon the concept of neutrality. Neutrality = Leave it how it is.

Building solidarity requires acknowledging that we have a perspective and we don’t/can’t always understand the perspectives of others.


Phew. 21NTC was a great experience, and I learned a ton. Also, a 3-day fully-online conference from 8-2:30 with only a few 15-minute breaks is exhausting.

As is often the case, I’ll leave this conference with both new ideas, skills, and lessons, but also a bigger thematic takeaway. My takeaway—at least in this early moment and put tersely and clumsily—is simply that injustice thrives when we get complacent, and it’s much easier to get complacent when you are removed from the everyday impacts of injustice, whether by your race, gender, sexuality, or even your job. As a white male consultant, I am paid for my technical knowledge and skills that I disburse from the safety of my home office and digital presence. I am shielded by my circumstances and ignorance of so much pain and inequality. It is my responsibility to pay attention, speak up, and act.

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