August 2008

3 Remarkable Projects And The Power Of The Web

dna illustration
Like so many Americans, my husband and I have a family tree with roots drawing from many, many nations. In combination, the two of us are Celtic, Scandinavian, Slavic, Hispanic and the list goes on with an ancestor here, an ancestor there, hopping on a boat or jumping on a wagon, all ending up here in America. Here, our European forefathers met up with our American forefathers. My husband is Cherokee and Comanche. My own family traces back to Chief Powhatan of the Powhatan Confederation in Virgina as well as a very confusing intermingling of South American Indigenous and Spanish ancestors dating to the fall of the Inca empire. A customized Google map depicting the sources of our DNA would be enough to bewilder a professional cartographer!

To me, having such a varied family background means having the responsibility of celebrating all of your ancestors, to honor all of their lifeways. It also means an unprejudiced reckoning with the truths of the power struggles of the past. When my Viking ancestors landed in Ireland, they not only pillaged and plundered, they also imprinted my Irish antecedents with their surname which has now lasted for some 10 centuries. When my European Ancestors showed up in North and South America, they not only caused unintentional genocide with germs and intentional genocide with guns and greed, but they also married the very people from whom they usurped the land (more ancestors).

This history of exploration, exploitation and amalgamation is the family story of nearly all modern Americans, and when your life is the culmination of such a mixture, there should be no prejudice – only an attempt at vast understanding and truth-telling. Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans who are willing to admit the truth about this country’s story remains a minority at this point. Let me ask you a couple of questions.

As an American, do you consider yourself living as a conqueror amongst a conquered people?

As an American, do associate apartheid with our nation, or only with South Africa?

As an American, do you think of the U.S. government as a world-famous example of freedom and justice, or as a promise-breaker and murderous oppressor?

Who you are, who your ancestors were, may have a great deal to do with how you answer questions like these. The truth Americans of Europeans descent must face, if they have any real loyalty to truth and justice, is that they are living in the midst of the descendants of the victims of a terrible Imperial takeover that resulted in the loss of as much as 90% of many native populations. The great grandchildren of these colonized people are very much here alongside of us all, many of them living in conditions of poverty second only to the living conditions of a country like Haiti.

founding father
The bleakness of our country’s poorest reservations is conveniently ignored by major media. The millions of people who visit Mount Rushmore every year go home in total ignorance that they were standing just a stone’s throw from Pine Ridge – America’s 2nd largest reservation and one of the poorest. Life expectancy here is around 44 years of age for men, infant mortality is 300% higher and youth suicide rates are 150% higher than the national average. 70% of the people are unemployed and 90% live below the poverty line. Imagine 17 people crammed into a 3 room house with no electricity, no plumbing and no clean water and you will have a startling picture of the bad side of life at Pine Ridge. It’s something many people would like to turn their eyes from, just as so many show no interest in the historic and ultimate fate of America’s earlier people, but the polite silence is being broken now, and the Internet is helping to facilitate what I see as an important and very positive change.

Indigenous peoples and news sources have websites. They have blogs. The people are telling the truth of their story and offering all Americans, and all of the world, the chance to reckon with the reality of the country’s story. I have come across 3 remarkable projects recently that impress me as so important, I would like to share them with you as a chance to learn something about the America too many of us have been encouraged to overlook.

Buffalo Field Campaign
The Buffalo Field Campaign

Most of us feel a stirring of the heart hearkening to the days when the majestic buffalo roamed these lands, free and populous. Now, the last of the truly wild buffalo live within the confines of Yellowstone National Park. The last few thousands of these amazing creatures, unaware that they are no longer free, make an attempt every winter to leave the park boundaries to forage for food. The Park Service, funded by the Beef Industry, has made the choice to respond to this natural instinct of the buffalo by corralling them with helicopters and shooting them. In 2007, alone, these people killed more than 1600 of the last buffalo.

A group of Native peoples have founded The Buffalo Field Campaign to protest this extermination of the buffalo, and they have good historic reason for outrage. In the 19th century, the U.S. Government decided that the best way to destroy the native way of life was to destroy the buffalo, thus forcing the indigenous peoples to become ‘civilized’ ranchers rather than hunters. Over the course of 3 years, the government slaughtered 4.5 million buffalo. The remnants of this once-great species dwell now in Yellowstone, but, as in the 1870s, the government is bent on their slaughter in order to serve their own special interests.

The people of the Buffalo Field Campaign have vowed to physically keep a watch over the buffalo, standing side by side with them morning and night, armed only with video cameras in order to document what is being done in Yellowstone. Unsurprisingly, but totally unacceptably, Native Americans are being beaten and arrested for daring to film what the government would like to keep a secret.

The web, and tools like YouTube, are perhaps the most powerful weapons available to the Buffalo Field Campaign members. By documenting their effort, they are opening up the chance for you, living in California, or Sweden, or Morocco, to become furious that the American government is still acting like the conqueror, still killing buffalo, still abusing Native peoples. I’ve been following this campaign closely, and looking through the eyes of a marketer, I concur that the power of shame is likely the best hope the Buffalo Field Campaign members have of stopping this totally unethical extermination of a sacred animal and an American icon.

The Republic of Lakota
The Republic of Lakotah

Did you hear about the secession that occurred on December 17, 2007? Yes, secession. Some 8 months ago, the People of Lakotah informed the U.S. government that they were tired of all of the historic treaties being ignored by the White House and were therefore withdrawing from all treaties and declaring themselves a separate nation. As the people put it:

In the face of the colonial apartheid conditions imposed on Lakotah people, the withdrawal from the U.S. Treaties is necessary.

Visit their informative website and you’ll quickly see a very long list of compelling reasons why the Lakotah have decided they’ve had quite enough of living under U.S. rule. The new Republic of Lakotah is located in South Dakota, and it is the intention of the people there not only to govern themselves, but to become a major green energy power in the world. They’ve got more wind than anybody, and they’ve also got solar and geothermal resources at their disposal which will enable them to attain exceptional self sufficiency.

This astonishing move by the people of Lakotah has received almost no major media attention, but again, the Internet has come into play to make up for what I see as an intentional hush-hushing of the situation. So far, they’ve got a static site and some videos on YouTube. I would absolutely love to see a blog brought in here to provide a weekly document of the efforts of this new nation within our nation. What is happening at Pine Ridge Reservation and in the state of South Dakota has got to be one of the most noteworthy people’s movements in modern history. The web is ready to record every step along this new journey for one of America’s oldest families of people.

Native Languages
The Native Languages Project

Popular media has created a popular depiction of Native peoples as having walked off into the sunset. Despite incomprehensible population devastations over the past 3 centuries, the earlier peoples are very much still with us. Whether living in the heart of busy cities or in the quiet of this country’s 300+ reservations, our land is still very rich with indigenous peoples who continue to struggle with the concepts of homogenization and the retention of culture. It’s a well-documented reality that language is central to culture. When people lose their native idiom, they tend to lose the heart of their lifeway. And this is why I have been inexpressibly thrilled and impressed by the massive undertaking of the Native Languages project.

Founded by a Cherokee/Muskogee/European gentleman named Orrin Lewis, this grassroots endeavor is striving to document all Native American languages of the entire Western Hemisphere. They’ve recorded 800 of them so far! Lewis is the first to admit that his website is far from beautiful, though it is ranking quite well for numerous searches. I like its plainness. As a web designer, I confess I’d love to see a bit more work done on the usability of the site, but really, they are doing a tremendous job and I consider this work a dream project and perfect example of the Internet’s power.

In Conclusion
Whether used as a tool for breaking dark silences or for illuminating the teaching of language, the web offers tremendous opportunities for bright minds. As a web designer, I would consider it an incredible honor to work on the projects I’ve outlined above, and many others like them. One of the most obvious uses of the Internet is as a source of income. A different, and grander, use of it is as an instrument of truth, a vehicle for connections, a chance for once-voiceless people to speak up and be heard.

Ultimately, I would like to believe that the Internet has the potential to act as a peacemaker. Journeying from site to site, from blog to blog, how can we fail to recognize the common threads of all humanity? To realize that we are all responsible, accountable and equal? Beyond the trivial, the financial, the peculiar, the Internet may be the great leveler of the playing field which all of us inhabit. In the course of our evolution as one species, perhaps this is what we’ve been waiting for.

There’s No Such Thing As A SEO – The Acronym Rule You Need To Know

It can happen to anyone.

All of us commit minor offenses against the English language every day. No one is perfect.

The English we speak tends to be far more relaxed and forgiving than the English we write.

And yet, here is a common copywriting error wherein the way you speak should be naturally dictating the words you type into your blogging dashboard of choice.

On a daily basis, I encounter the acronym SEO incorrectly paired with with the article a, as in:

I’m a SEO who loves my job.
Should a SEO buy links for clients?
I met a SEO at the conference.

Tsk, tsk, tsk. A SEO can’t love their job, a SEO should never buy links for clients and you should never meet a SEO at a conference.

Speak those phrases out loud and feel the flicker of discomfort that comes across mind and tongue as you jump from ‘a’ to ‘SEO’. The cause: vowel sounds in our language are almost always supposed to be preceded by the an form of the indefinite article. The history of this basically revolves around ease of use. It’s less strenuous for the mouth to form the words an uncle than a uncle. It’s a choice between gliding easily from word to word or galumphing along in your speech.

But, you say, SEO starts with the letter ‘S’, not a vowel.

How true. But the letter ‘s’ starts with a vowel-like sound: ess.

The Easy Rule Governing Whether To Use ‘A’ or ‘An’ Before An Acronym
The easy rule is that when you speak out the individual letters of an acronym, and the first letter starts with a vowel-like sound, use the ‘an’ form of the indefinite article.

Examples:
An MD
An NBA player
An NAACP recipient
An FBI agent
An SEO

But:
A CEO
A PTA member
A VIP

I call this an easy rule, because the spoken word should help you determine which indefinite article feels the most comfortable. English rules aren’t always so easy.

On a final note, when you speak an acronym as though it were a word (think NAFTA, NATO and NASA) the traditional rules of ‘a’ before a consonant and ‘an’ before a vowel come back into play. But, when you deliver each separate letter of an acronym with an individual staccato flourish, simply speak the word aloud to discover whether ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the comfortable, sensible choice. As an SEO or a copywriter, it’s the handsome thing to do.

Google-Proof Hedge Keeps Street View Out!

Pesky Googlers Peeking In Your Windows?

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Google Proof Hedge for Street View Protection

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———————–

All Joking Aside…
How do you feel about a company that makes Americans feel this way?

“There isn’t any privacy, get over it,” says Google’s Vint Cerf and then tries to revise his statement by saying,” I was trying to suggest that we really have entered a period when things are a lot less private.”

I can only ask, why doesn’t Cerf take credit for the fact that Google hasn’t ‘entered’ this age – they’ve been the #1 force behind its creation.

Greg Sterling warns:

Whether or not Google actually believes (privately) that there’s no privacy in fact it’s ill advised for the company to aggressively take that position publicly.

How do you really feel about the world according to Google in which nearly anything you own could become fodder for their advertising revenue? I’ve already voiced my opinion of this in ladylike terms, but readers of Valley Wags’ How Street View Will Harsh On Your Buzz were rather more pointed in their response to Google mapping the marijuana plantations of Humboldt county:

- Driving down a private road in Humboldt? That’s a fast way to get shot, seriously.

- With a hugely conspicuous camera rig mounted to your roof, no less.

The public response I’ve encountered to Google’s actions ranges from who cares, to tolerant, to supportive, to up-in-arms, to an entire community in Minnesota telling Google to get out of town. Say Google is violating your privacy and you risk being styled a techo-phobe. Say you love it and risk being likened to Stalin. Either way, we are all awaiting the results of any court actions that are revolving and will revolve around new technologies like Street View.

I continue to laugh to myself (albeit in a bitter, cynical kind of way) about the Google Street View car driver who pleaded not to be photographed by the public, and the reports I hear every time someone I know visits the Googleplex and is carefully instructed as to where they are and aren’t allowed to take photos. Irony? Hypocracy? Controversy, at the very least.

In the meantime, some really web 2.0 nursery ought to swipe my idea and start selling Google-proof hedges. Guaranteed to work until Google starts equipping their drivers with clippers.

Nota Bene: Matt McGee’s Hyperlocal Series Starts Today!

Having just finished up a 5 part Hyperlocal Blogging series of my own, I was thrilled to hear that Matt McGee has earmarked this week for his 5 part series: Starting a Hyperlocal Blog.

I’m a fan from post #1 and was particularly interested to understand Matt’s reasoning behind launching multiple city-specific blogs for his wife’s various areas of service, as opposed to creating an umbrella blog for the whole Tri-cities area of Washington. In my experience, SEOs typically recommend working hard to enrich a single point – a single domain – but it appears that keyword research and strategy have dictated otherwise here for the McGees. As Matt puts it:

* We’d create four new quality local blogs, one to cover each of the primary cities in the Tri-Cities, plus West Richland.

I put the word “quality” in italics there because it’s easy to brush this off as more real estate spam: Here’s another real estate agent making multiple spammy sites that are just going to interlink and clog up the SERPs. Nope. As you’ll see soon in our discussion of tactics, creating quality is at the core of the whole effort. We’re not hosting the three domains on separate IP ranges to avoid the appearance of spam. Our assumption is that the blogs will be so good we don’t have to worry about looking spammy.

The McGees are putting in major efforts to make their hyperlocal real estate blogs both useful and profitable, and Matt’s transparent and truthful documentation of the challenges in realizing that goal is going to provide a really educational read for all of us!

Our Latest Website Launch For A Very Winning Local Business

Truth be told, I’m a romantic person. Not in a lovey-dovey kind of way, but in the sense that my spirit lights up when it encounters concepts like alpine Sierra meadows sprinkled with flowers, the evening sun painting hot stretches of New Mexico’s desert places, or the first warming sip from a flask of strong tea on a windy beach, coat collar up around your frozen ears and the thud of the water clearing your mind.

I find such flashes of feeling and mental imagery irresistibly exciting and I’ve realized that it’s this simple romantic vision that draws me in so totally when new clients come to me from interesting places around the country. Yes, we’ll do our level best to build them a totally sensible, usable, high ranking website, but I think we do a little more. For so long as we work with a client, we’re reaching out for a share in their particular business dream, and part of this involves envisioning the romance of the sales proposition…the irresistible offer of something customers will part with money to participate in, be this the purchase of a new camping tent or the hiring of a professional landscaper. Find the dream and you increase your chances of discovering deep and unvoiced motivations.

Laramie, Wyoming sits on a high plain between two magnificent mountain ranges. Its old time reputation was for Wild West lawlessness, and in modern times, it’s a living place for the adventurous, the rugged, the unique individual. Not everyone would choose to live in Laramie, but it sounds completely enthralling to me for its great outdoors atmosphere. Here’s an amazing fact: there is literally no month of the year in which snow hasn’t fallen at some point in Laramie. It’s a frosty spot and only a polar bear would try to live there without the benefit of a life-giving hearth in the home.

high country stoves
Enter High Country Stoves and Chimneys – Laramie, Wyoming’s dedicated local hearth stoves expert. This family business has been serving Southeastern Wyoming and North Central Colorado for nearly two decades now, and owner Larry James knows enough about wood stoves, gas fireplaces and pellet stoves to write a great book on the subject. He is so adept in his field that he was, in fact, invited to the White House some years ago to sweep the chimneys. In my early conversations with Larry, it quickly became apparent that he is committed to customer satisfaction in a way you only get with the very best small, local businesses.

Just imagine yourself as a newcomer to Laramie. Say you move into your dream house in the high country in late July. Then the first real cold snap comes and the funky space heater that came with the house leaves you turning blue. Imagine walking into Larry James’ big, bright hearth stoves show room and having him personally guide you through all of your choices, assuring you that his people will not only come and install your toasty new stove, but they will also service it themselves if it ever needs it. No dealing with sending angry emails to a manufacturer somewhere in New Jersey. Larry James is just down the road and in coming to him for help, you’ll soon find out that your stove will not only be a gorgeous visual feature of your home, but will also enable you to live out your high country dream in luxurious, warm comfort.

When I think of the grand snow and the friendliness of fire, when I think of local families passing the long winter nights at ease because of the vital service High Country Stoves and Chimneys provides, I am convinced of the benefits of the small local business. No one else is going to understand the specific challenges of life in this corner of Wyoming like the James family will. Thoughts like these were at the forefront of my mind when we sat down to redesign this company’s website, and it gave me a happy glow to think that the end result could be a site which offered an appealing first taste of the knowledge and welcome customers will receive when they visit this local business.

High Country Stoves and Chimney’s new website is quite simple, but carefully structured to step the visitor through their many choices of stoves based on fuel type, size and architectural needs. Contact information is apparent and abundant and Google is already taking handsome notice of this in their 3-pack and organic results. And, the website has been designed to enable the James family to manage their own updates. This was a lovely, clear project and the chance to be part of the little town of Laramie for awhile was a satisfying pleasure.

Maybe next week, my mind will be in Maine, helping a family to sell the best oyster crackers ever baked. Maybe it’ll be up in the North Woods, getting a lakeside vacation home ready for an Internet debut. Maybe someone in my own town will bring me on to help them turn California into the solar energy capital of the world. No, not every project has that delectable element of romance, but if its there at all, I think I’ll find it and work for my clients with a real sense of joy.

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