Category Archives: writing for the web

Roam free

Isn’t technology fantastic when it just works? But on the flip side, isn’t technology infuriating when it leaves you frustrated and resigned, thinking “why the **** doesn’t this just work“?! As someone whose job it is to enthuse new users of the benefits and advantages of technology for their working practice, alarm bells ring when, as a user, I come across the latter.

Until Monday this week, one service that i’ve been repeatedly frustrated by is eduroam. I’d tried to connect a number of times over the last two years, but to no avail. Why? Because it was such a faff, requiring a manual wireless connection to be set-up with a multitude of settings, hidden away in ‘advanced…’ pop ups. No thanks, sorry, i’m not that kind of techie – I don’t need complete control or to know exactly how something works, I just simply want it to work; I want to use and benefit from the service in question. Perhaps i’d made a wrong click when following the instructions or perhaps there was a technical issue. Whatever, I soon became frustrated enough to give up. Over time i’ve heard other users report similar frustrations and wasn’t motivated to persevere.

But, visiting the University of Leeds on Monday, I gave eduroam another shot and to my surprise it just worked… I had a few minutes between meetings, and grabbing a coffee and using my iPhone, I did a search for available networks and up popped an eduroam network. “No chance” I thought. But hold on, username, password, 1-2-3, online! “How did that happen? What about all the required network settings?” I don’t know the answer (although iPhone evangelists will no doubt claim it was device magic!). I’m intrigued, but actually, not that bothered to find out. What’s important is the immediate (and future) benefit to me and others – the service worked and I was able to quickly and efficiently get online to perform a few tasks. To me that’s the fundamental benefit of technology; it (ideally!) enables users to perform complicated tasks parsimoniously. There’s a wow factor when users ‘get’ something new, or find a service that just works; everyone gets a kick out of saving themselves time!

What is eduraom anyway? Finding the answer uncovers another frustration, this time one relating to communications and writing for the web. In the UK, eduroam is provided by JANET, and the headline blurb on states the following:

“The JANET Roaming service provides eduroam in the UK which enables network logon anywhere using own username and password [?] regardless of location without the need for guest account set up.”

Hmmm, as a user, does that encourage you to try it out? Unfortunately, no, probably not.  Perhaps i’m being overly pedantic, but I believe users need a clear message and the importance of web credibility. Compare the above to the following from the international site,

“eduroam (education roaming) is the secure, world-wide roaming access service developed for the international research and education community. eduroam allows students, researchers and staff from participating institutions to obtain Internet connectivity across campus and when visiting other participating institutions by simply opening their laptop.”

Now that sounds like a service that should appeal to student, staff and research users. Especially if it just works!

Know your audience when writing web content

I’ve run our Writing for the Web (WFTW) workshop a number of times over the last few weeks, in Dublin, Edinburgh and Huddersfield. All three were excellent days, each taking its own natural course and ending up completely different to the suggested blueprint in the workbook.

Last week I was at the University of Huddersfield, running a workshop for members of their central marketing department and others responsible for web copy from around the University. Much of the morning was focussed on identifying and understanding the different audiences for the University website as well as for individual schools and services. We had interesting and revealing discussions about the information required by a particular audience, from overseas students to parents to staff, and the best way to communicate directly to them. As with so many tasks, it pays to spend some time planning before actually putting pen to paper (should or shouldn’t that be finger to keyboard?!) – if you know who you’re writing for and why, it sure does focus the mind and make writing that quality web content easier!

I always find I pick up excellent examples and ideas from attendees when running WFTW; it’s that kind of day. At first glance each could be overlooked or thought trivial, but undoubtedly highlight the need to give considered thought to both the target audience and the author’s intention when crafting content for the web.

First, one from someone who attended the workshop in Dublin. A well known low frills airline started off referring to “budget fares” but soon realised this wasn’t appealing to their audience. Obviously their intention is to sell tickets, but for this to be effective the customer needs to be enticed by the benefits to them. They soon made changes and “cheap flights” works so much better.

Second, an example from the Edinburgh workshop I ran for NHS National Services Scotland in November. During the afternoon, we examined the written content on a number of attendees’ sites, including the website for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion service. Again there were more interesting discussions highlighting the importance of considering your audience. For a blood transfusion service, who’s the patient? From the perspective of the donor it’s certainly not them – they’re giving blood to help ‘patients’!