What it is: Clearly and concisely defining your product or service


Miniature Danish-Norwegian-French dictionary, via
Tomasz Sienicki, Wikimedia Commons
Creative Commons

Before you grimace, let’s get one thing straight: this post doesn’t necessarily concern marketing or advertising; it concerns writing clearly and concisely. Yes, I’m going to use businesses’ websites — which are essentially marketing and advertising avenues — as examples. And sure, as the title states, I’ll help you define a product and service, which borders on marketing talk. Rather, I hope if you take anything from this, it will be how to better define all the things.

Before we get into the specifics, what makes for a quality definition? In 1998, author and researcher Simon Winchester had his book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary published. On page 151 he described five basic rules for writing dictionary definitions. They are:

1. Put the word in a class and then differentiate it “from other members of that class.”
2. Describe what it is rather than what it is not.
3. Don’t use words more complicated or “less likely to be known than the word” you are trying to define.
4. Ensure all the words used to define the word can also be found in the dictionary.
5. If more than one meaning exists for the word you are trying to define, state the additional meanings.
6. Do not talk about Dictionary Club.

Winchester provides us a solid start in deciding what makes for a quality definition, but let’s focus primarily on items two and three. Time for an example. What is boccie? Boccie is “a game in which players roll heavy balls across an area of ground and try to get each ball to stop as near as possible to a smaller ball.” Merriam-Webster tells us what it is and uses non-complicated words to do it. Most anyone with a basic English vocabulary already knows what words like “game,” “ball,” ground,” and “roll” mean. The writer has also written concisely: the definition doesn’t explain all the intricacies of the game, instead focusing on providing the basic premise of the game in as few words as possible.

However, while being thrifty with words, the definition also seems to not be miserly, meaning it gives you enough information to place the newly defined concept into your memory bank. Later, if you wish to know more, you can investigate the topic in a book about the game or an encyclopedia. Some may perceive this as expanding the original definition, and in a sense this additional background research is doing just that. But once all the intricacies of the game are learned from research and possibly practice, could those same people distill the game down to as concise an essence as the dictionary? It takes effort, right?

I find Twitter to be a delightful tool for practicing concise writing. Messages or “tweets” on the social media service have a maximum length of 140 characters. This often gets the creative juices flowing regarding what is essential to what you wish to say. Additionally, I stick to full words and complete sentences in all but a handful of cases, rather than using shorthand like “2″ for “to” or “too.” (I’m occasionally guilty of using the ampersand in place of “and” when I simply can’t find anything else to cut.) On Twitter, I also try to capture the essence of what I do professionally while also keeping it interesting, all within their 160-character bio space limit: “I’m a freelance professional who writes, edits, and teaches and tries to find links between them all. I also have a life-long fascination with travel.”


How well defined is your social media profile?

My profile tells users what I am — or at least how I portray myself on the service — and includes language that isn’t overly complicated, at least for other people interested in writing, editing, and teaching. The “definition” is concise, and just like the concept of “boccie,” if someone wants to find out more about me, they can access additional resources like my website or LinkedIn page to get a better understanding of what I am and do.

Now that we have at least a rudimentary understanding of what makes a quality definition, I want to turn to the marketing and advertising world to see how well they state “what it is.” I’m going in this direction because of the research and writing work I do for one of my clients in the laboratory informatics industry. Through that client over a period of more than three years, I’ve examined the offerings of over 500 business entities via their websites. What is their product and what does it do? For now, I’ll focus on the “what it is” portion. Every product entry has a largely one-sentence statement that almost always comes directly from a quote from the company website. “Product X is a Y system designed to do/provide Z.” I’m intentionally looking at the vendor’s web page for a distinctive “is” statement that early on distills the essence, the meat of the product into one descriptive, concise sentence. Let’s look at some examples:

1. CSC LIMS is a laboratory information management system (LIMS) that “increases the speed and efficiency of laboratory activities, helping you deliver improved patient outcomes.” (Source)
2. LabCollector is a modular laboratory information management system (LIMS) that “can be used in a variety of different situations and labs.” (Source)
3. QuaLIS is a laboratory information management system (LIMS) “that helps global organisations to standardise on a single LIMS system.” (Source)
4. AgiLIMS is a laboratory information management system (LIMS) “for laboratory analysis and control.” (Source)
5. “CI-Master is a competitive intelligence application developed in line with the following principle: ‘Competitive intelligence is a process that deals with the identification, critical analysis, structuring, capitalization, management and targeted distribution of sensitive, mission-critical information.’” (Source)
6. VisuaLab is a laboratory information management system (LIMS) solution for veterinary and comparative pathology laboratories. (Source)

The content describing the first piece of software, CSC LIMS, first describes a problem and a solution to the problem. Then a description of what the product is follows, propped up as a viable solution to the aforementioned problem. The company actually first states “CSC LIMS helps staff track samples and testing processes, share results with other healthcare professionals, monitor costs and create extensive reporting, while complying with industry standards and protocols.” This isn’t a pure “is” statement; instead they use the route of a more potent action verb like “helps,” which is great! The attempt to define what the product is ends up being a bit lengthy, but I call this a very good attempt at remaining concise yet descriptive. In the end, I opted for the shorter quote (as stated above), which appears later on the page.

What of the second example, LabCollector? If not a subpage, you’d expect the front page to at least give a solid “is” statement for its flagship product. The writers for this website trip and stumble with statements like “[t]he main concept behind LabCollector LIMS is that each scientist in the lab can manage quickly his data and make them available to the rest of the lab members.” Sure, it gives me an idea of what the software should do, but guess what? A laboratory information management system (LIMS), by definition, is inherently designed to manage and share data. So instead of making their product stand out, the writers simply repeat themselves: the software is a LIMS that acts like a LIMS. Later they provide other “is”-like statements to flesh out what the software does, but in the end they nearly break another rule of writing a good definition: don’t make your definition self-referential or circular. What makes LabCollector a well-defined, distinctive product? Well, I’m not sure without researching further. Some potential customers would have  already moved on.

The description for QuaLIS suffers slightly from a heap of “what it is.” The writers chose to define the software in a bunch of “is” statements crammed together, resulting in an acceptable if not boring introduction. This method certainly doesn’t provide one powerful sentence that captures the essence of the program. QuaLIS is: “an enterprise scale Web based LIMS,” “agnostic to server platform OS,” “works with any SQL compatible database,” “a multi-site capable solution” … Did the writers just take a feature list and turn it into a bunch of “is” statements? Ho-hum, humdrum. Moving on.

French company AgiLab begins with “AgiLIMS is the LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) solution for laboratory analysis and control.” This certainly was written concisely, but I’m left wanting just a little bit more. The software is a LIMS for analysis and control labs. I know what all those things are, and if I were shopping for a LIMS, I could use this beginning statement to decide if I should continue reading based on the type of laboratory I have. In that respect, this definition seems adequate. Does it make the product stand out from other such systems? Not so much.

Item five, CI-Master, suffers from a lack of conciseness and a bit of circularity in its definition, but the writer was certainly moving in the right direction! The introductory “is” statement would look better as: “CI-Master is a data management application that helps users identify, analyze, manage, target, and capitalize on their sensitive, mission-critical information.”

Finally, the VisuaLab page fails to give the reader any definition of what it is, opting instead for a list of features. Feature lists are definitely beneficial, yet many companies are quite stingy with publishing such details, usually preferring you to contact them for more information. That said, the VisuaLab page certainly could benefit from a small introductory paragraph with an opening “is” statement, setting the stage for what makes it stand out as a product. This seems like a missed opportunity.

—–

Hopefully I didn’t bore you with too many examples. However, I wanted to clearly provide enough of them to point out what I see on a near daily basis: writers failing to understand a product or service well enough to provide a more concise and powerful “is” statement. I should also add that strong action verbs like “help,” “provide,” “support,” etc. often act as an even better alternative; “to be” has its uses, but some writers tend to overuse the verb. Whether you’re writing copy or your Twitter profile, a Wikipedia entry or the biography of your book, take the time to understand what you need to write about and follow the rules for a quality definition as suggested by Winchester. If you take the time to discover the essence, the resulting statement or “definition” should inherently be concise and give readers the opportunity in one or two sentences to know “what it is.”

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Posted in Web Content Creation, Writing

Istanbul: A Retrospective

New Mosque
in Istanbul

From a deluge of kebaberies and sidewalk repairs to a wealth of customs and history, Istanbul is a city I found to be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. It’s exciting because there’s a significant amount of change occurring in the city, and it’s intimidating for not only that same reason, but also because the city’s history and culture constantly remind you there’s something much deeper to Istanbul than kebaberies and mosques. It’s a city grappling with finding just the right prom dress for a good old-fashioned call to Islamic prayer.

A note, before continuing: this is the author’s first time in a Muslim country, though definitely not the first time traveling abroad. Therefor these stories are painted through the goggles of an inquisitive and curious mind looking for something beyond the norms of Western society. In many ways I found something different.

There are many stories I can share with you about my experience, but they are often merely brief revelations and “oh yeah!” moments. Being woken up shortly after 6:00 a.m. by the call to prayer over the loudspeakers, despite expecting it, is an example of such a moment. “The practicing faithful pray five times a day at least, early in the morning at that,” I pondered as I tried to tuck in another hour or two of sleep. There are a couple of stories I’ll share with you, though I’ll try to keep them brief. Afterwards, you’ll find a few more stories and anecdotes mixed in with some travel advice to any of you considering going to Istanbul in the future.

Since I mentioned the call to prayer, I’ll talk about my experience entering a mosque for the first time as an agnostic yet respectful Westerner. It’s actually two separate moments, the first at the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) and the other at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii).

At the New Mosque I happened to be outside when the call to prayer was made. For the uninitiated, this is essentially a chant broadcasted from loudspeakers mounted atop one or more minarets of the mosques of the city. I watched as people walked up to the bathing stations where the pious wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque. I happened to be drawn to a man and woman at one of the stations, the man handing off coat, shoes, and more to the woman as he proceeded to wash. She then returned the clothing to the man, he nodded at her, and then he walked up the stairs and into the mosque, while the lady — wearing the typical hijab — made her way to one of the benches outside.

I suppose up to that moment it hadn’t occurred to me women may or may not accompany men into mosques. As I later discovered women have a separate area where they pray inside the mosque, apart from men. Before arriving to Istanbul I knew there was some separation in the society between men and women, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me it extends so far. After ten minutes or so, the man appeared from inside the mosque, he greeted the woman, and they walked away together. But I turned my attention to the entrance during those ten minutes to see if any couples were entering. I didn’t see one. Upon returning to the U.S. the experience still struck me a bit oddly, as talk of feminism and women’s rights is always present in my group of friends. Reconciling my support for those concepts with the “that’s the way it is” aspect of Istanbul (and surely other parts of Turkey) has been a bit tough. I suddenly have the urge to research what progressive actions are being headed by women in Turkey and other such countries.

Much more behind the cut! Click here to continue.

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Posted in Society, Travel

The grey areas of sharing information in a free and open way


Information paywall, via
wawoodworth, Flickr
Creative Commons

I try not to let my emotions get the best of me, but when it comes to the topics of informatics and data preservation, my passion sometimes gets in the way of making a cogent statement.

I just had one of those little fits that, in retrospect, now looks like a childish temper tantrum. After ranting about my disdain for research paywalls on Facebook (while also mentioning I understand someone has to pay for information curation and distribution), some predictable and perhaps deserved comments were made, including (paraphrased):

• The library is free; you should use it.
• You’re another example of the “I want everything for free” crowd.

I feel compelled to address these valid points of view while also explaining my primary frustrations involved with the current state of information access and preservation. I keep in mind (and ask you to do the same) I likely represent a small percentage of people with interest in the subject of information curation and preservation, and I’m obviously biased by my own perceptions and experience.

A little background

I’m conducting historical and, to a lesser degree, scientific research for a free-to-use online wiki about laboratory informatics. It includes information about data acquisition and management as it relates to science and industry, incorporating articles about informatics, informatics tools, vendors, and open-source projects. When writing about these topics on the wiki, I’m expected to follow similar standards to Wikipedia: leave out the marketing and weasel words, incorporating facts backed up by references. Using tools like search engines, Google Scholar, Google Books and the Internet Archive, I’ve typically been able to find the references I need to support claims like “Company X was bought by Company Y in 1997″ or “modern laboratory information management systems (LIMS) now permit users to import and manage raw assay data.”

Much more behind the cut! Click here to continue.

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Posted in Data archiving, Internet, Research, Society, Technology

Musings on Bradbury's ʻFahrenheit 451ʼ and education

I just re-read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Many have said it’s about censorship, but it’s not, at least at the core. It touches on anti-intellectualism and a society which lets itself — not solely by governmental influence — fall into a state of disrepair while attempting to find happiness in a grossly distorted, vapid commonality.

The best excerpts from the book come when protagonist, Guy Montag, is confronted by boss and antagonist Captain Beatty about a recent book and building burn they (the Firemen) completed. During this dialog both these characters act as Bradbury’s mouthpiece, casting warnings about the potential direction of society. In the following excerpt, Beatty explains how attention spans faded across the media spectrum, leading to a decline in intellectualism:

Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm…

Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the Twentieth Century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.

Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet … was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.

But how did media devolve to a “paste pudding norm” in the characters’ world? How did intellectualism come to die? Beatty continues to explain to Montag. Words in bold are my own emphasis:

With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That’s you, Montag, and that’s me.

With misgivings about where the conversation is going, Montag asks Beatty about the curious, “different” girl he met early on in the story, the one who provoked Montag to ask himself if he is happy. In this excerpt Captain Beatty responds, at the same time shedding much light on the state of education in the characters’ world, as well as explaining further the people’s intent to eradicate unhappiness by quelling intellectual thought. Again, words in bold my emphasis:

Clarisse McClellan? We’ve a record on her family. We’ve watched them carefully. Heredity and environment are funny things. You can’t rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle. We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago. Never found a book. Uncle had a mixed record; anti-social. The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I’m sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl’s better off dead.

Luckily, queer ones like her don’t happen, often. We know how to nip most of them in the bud, early. You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.

Bradbury much later brushed attributions of censorship themes aside, stating the story was more about the dumbing-down effect of television. However, I find the book to be much more than just how media may be dumbing us down. In it are also strong themes of grappling with social acceptance, anti-intellectualism, and personal happiness, just as there are notes on “tuning out” with vapid entertainment, as well as self-imposed censorship.

Despite being almost 60 years old, the particulars of the story — regardless of how you wish to interpret them — all seem extremely relevant to America, 2012. The musings on education are particularly poignant given today’s current educational atmosphere.

For example, Bradbury’s antagonist goes on about filling students “so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.” Sound familiar? Searching the news on any given day will reveal complaints of how students regurgitate rather than understand. In Bradbury’s characters’ world, higher education is cranking out more athletes than creatives and intellectuals. Maybe that sounds familiar also? It should: this is another hot topic of debate in higher education, with people on both sides of the table.

That said, “Fahrenheit 451″ is definitely worth a read and then some self-reflection. It’s a book that remains significantly relevant to our times. Afterwards, it leaves us to ask “could we slowly be headed down the same path?” Bradbury frequently saw signs of it after writing the book. Do you? Or will his science fiction world remain purely that: fiction?

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Posted in Education, Society

Data protection: More than saving data, it's saving culture


Digital storage, via Danny Nicholson,
Flickr Creative Commons

I made a plea to my Facebook friends a few weeks ago to donate to the Internet Archive. Realizing thousands of entities petition us for our money, I also told them I’d write an article about why the Internet Archive — a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of humanity’s digital culture — and other entities like it are so important. After all, why should I expect people to blindly donate money to a cause if it’s not soon shown to be a relevant and functional cause?

But before I dig into the relevancy and functionality of preserving our digital culture, let me lay out the canvas, giving a little background to the topic. That background may not be as attractive as Bob Ross’ happy little trees, but it should do the trick.

Ready to dive in? Click here to continue.

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Posted in Data archiving, Internet, Technology, Web Content Creation

British English and the use of the word 'holidays'

Those of you knowledgeable in British English: I need to know what word or words you predominately use to refer to “a day often marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.”

I’m cognizant of the fact that in British English, a “holiday” is often a vacation. Thus, a headline like “How the Internet has changed the holidays” may result in an expectation of news about travel agencies and online travel bookings changing the way people go on vacation. Rather, I mean to talk about how the Internet has changed how we prepare and celebrate officially sanctioned days of commemoration.

Would simply changing the headline to “How the Internet has changed the celebration of holidays” make the topic clearer to users of British English?

As a side note, it’s often difficult to remember these sorts of subtleties across dialects of a language. Keeping audience in mind, as well as the significance of words used for that audience, becomes vital, especially when dealing on a more global scale of Internet writing.

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Posted in Linguistics, Web Content Creation, Writing

Writediteach.com to participate in American Censorship Day

The United States Congress is going to hold hearings on what could potentially be the U.S.’s first Internet censorship system. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (related to the former senate version, the PROTECT IP Act) is being rapidly pushed through by corporate interests who hope it’ll slip by mostly unaware citizens without being noticed as extremely flawed. As the EFF summarizes, “SOPA could allow the U.S. government and private corporations to create a blacklist of censored websites, and cut many more off from their ad networks and payment providers.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with businesses attempting to protect their copyrighted material (though that’s not to say that copyright law in the US is in great shape because it’s not), SOPA goes beyond simple copyright policing and into the dangerous territory of violating U.S. citizens’ right to freely express opinion.

AmericanCensorship.org recently put together a video recently that attempts to clearly explain what PROTECT IP (and now SOPA) intends to do and what damage it could do for U.S. innovation and creative development:

Due to the dangers this legislation poses to U.S. innovation and creative expression, I can’t help but throw in my support to American Censorship Day on November 16, 2011. Users who go to the base website on that day will see a “Stop Censorship” black box over the site logo, which will link them to information on how to contact their congressional representatives.

Regardless of whether you’re a blogger, writer, tech enthusiast, or general Internet user, this malicious legislation should worry you. Do your part to stop SOPA.

Further reading:

EFF: American Censorship Day is this Wednesday — And You Can Join In!
TorrentFreak: Perhaps The Copyright Industry Deserves Some Credit For Pointing Out Our Single Points Of Failure
BoingBoing: Internet giants place full-page anti-SOPA ad in NYT

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Posted in Internet, Technology

On education, technology, and their crossroad

Hey all! This is a super-quick update to let you know that I’m doing some guest writing again for LearnTheNet.org. I mentioned it previously, but for the short-term at least it appears I’ve been bumped up to writing twice a month there. Today I posted a long-ish piece about how e-books are making progress, especially in the library and education sectors. Check it out. And while you’re there, don’t be afraid to peek around at the additional content.

As for the next post here, I’m hoping to explore the benefits of using the wiki architecture and when it may not be so adequate for presenting your information. More to come soon.

Image via Cloned Milkmen, flickr Creative Commons

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Posted in Education, Technology

Opera, Opera Turbo, Google Chrome, and the WebP Image Format

Hey all! Something just came to my attention while doing some work for a client, and I thought I’d bring it up as it doesn’t seem to be well known or documented. Note beforehand that though I’ve been using computers for most of my 36 years of existence (my first computer was a Commodore 64), I don’t claim to constantly keep up on changing Web standards. That’s why I probably haven’t heard much about a new endeavor by Google to improve lossy image compression. Try to follow along as I’m going to toss out a lot of information and links, some of it which may be confusing.

On September 30, 2010, Google announced their WebP standard as something “that promises to significantly reduce the byte size of photos on the [W]eb, allowing [W]eb sites to load faster than before.” By the spring of 2011, the WebP lossy file format became natively supported in the Google Chrome and Opera Web browsers. Specifically, Opera Turbo — a feature added to the browser in mid-2009 that compresses Web data to increase load speeds — uses the WebP standard extensively, though mostly behind the scenes.

Opera Turbo essentially works likes this: you request a Web page be loaded from a server, then that request is redirected to special Opera servers, which grab the page, quickly compress it, and then direct it back to your Web browser. This usually doesn’t result in anything drastically different in the view, and the conversion of images to the WebP format goes unknown. But there’s a point where this breaks down and becomes intrusive to someone who doesn’t have a clue about this process.

See my experience, which has brought me to typing this out. I’m doing some freelance writing, editing, and wiki maintenance for a client, and this has included downloading images from his existing Web site and uploading them to his wiki page. Aside from actually being given access to the client’s current server or being e-mailed an archive of the images, this process seems the easiest, especially given that my client is extremely busy. Yesterday I right-clicked and chose “Save Image…” from the Opera menu without issue, each time defaulting to a .jpg save type. That experience changed today, much to my confusion. The default save type when I tried it today was “.webp”, confusing me greatly.

“What the heck is a .webp file format?” I asked myself, “And why is it defaulting to .webp when the file is obviously a .jpg file?” It wasn’t until after I performed a Web search that I found that this new default was related to Opera’s turbo setting. Indeed, I had turned Opera Turbo on shortly before seeing this strange new default. Unsure of how to proceed, I turned off Opera Turbo, refreshed, and wala! — no more .webp default format.

Granted, this may be too specific of a case (and thus may not represent a realistic situation for most Opera users), but I was still shocked by both how intrusive this change was and later how undocumented the change was. The only places I found reference to this change were a handful of news articles and the change log for the 11.10 version of the browser. As for the intrusiveness of it, I was further annoyed as the browser gave no notice that the default image format had been changed. Now that I’ve researched the issue, I better understand what’s going on and why, but it doesn’t lessen the surprise and frustration of the experience.

Now, aside from turning off Opera Turbo, one could also remove the .webp file association from Opera in order for the browser to default back to the .jpg format in the “Save Image…” dialog. (Tools>Preferences>Advanced tab, uncheck “Hide file types opened with Opera”, quick find “webp”, Edit…, remove text from “File extensions”, OK, OK) However, this seems rather defeatist as you’d essentially be gimping the inherent purpose of Opera Turbo; at that point you might as well just turn it off.

By the way, Opera might be be doing similar format conversions (I haven’t confirmed this yet), converting other files into formats like WBMP and WebM during its content conversion for Opera Turbo. Don’t be surprised if a similar issue could arise when trying to do the same thing with other types of online media. I don’t use Google Chrome, but I make the uneducated assumption that Chrome isn’t utilizing this sort of behind-the-scenes conversion unless the user has enabled it somehow. I need to research this more, but it leaves me to believe that Opera is the first browser to truly utilize WebP so actively in the background.

To close, this isn’t so much a complaint as it is an advisory. If you find yourself in a similar situation, scratching your head as to what the heck WebP is and why you’re seeing it as a default save format on Opera, this is why. I’ll leave the technical discussion of whether WebP will ever/should overtake the .jpeg/.jpg format to someone else. However, this experience was yet another reminder to me that when it comes to the Internet, Web standards do indeed change, and sometimes it’s a Goliath corporation like Google leading the charge.

Further reading: Get the WebP codec for Windows

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Posted in Technology, Web Content Creation

Autumn 2011 Write Edit Teach Update from the Author

Hello, all! I just wanted to give you a brief update on what’s going on with me. I just wrapped up over two months of English teaching at a summer camp in Spain. In fact, it’s the same camp that I’ve been going to for four summers now. Teaching English to Spanish kids (anywhere between the ages of 6 and 16) is a delightful but sometimes overwhelming experience for me, especially when there are more than 170 children running around at one time. (No, I don’t teach that many children at once. Rather, we try to keep class sizes no larger than 12 to 13 students.)

Now I’m back to my freelance ways. I consider myself fortunate to have established trust with some folks already. For example, LearnTheNet.com — a long-standing and important tool for folks who are new to the Internet or are trying to make sense of the rapid social changes occurring there — has taken me on as a guest writer again after a bit of a hiatus. You can find me writing about the Internet and education once a month on their related news site LearnTheNet.org. Today I posted some news there about how the U.S. is seeing further adoption of online education, but not without challenges.

While I’ve never been very good at updating my blog here, I still have intentions of posting something here at least once a month about writing, editing, teaching, journalism, publishing, and more. Stay tuned as I try to increasingly present my thoughts about topics like the current U.S. education crisis and how authors are turning to self-publishing.

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, a place where I tend to be most active! And of course there is always the Facebook page for Write Edit Teach

Image via Horia Varlan, Flickr Creative Commons

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