Archive for Web Writing

A Week of Writing – June 18 – 23

This week, my work has chiefly been in the area of copy editing content for our corporate brochures at Webtech Wireless. I finally discovered why so much of our writing comes off sounding like marketing bumbf, instead of the targetted technical content that it’s intended to be.

Curiously, I found the answer in our case studies, which read beautifully because they’re written in a narrative style (i.e., they tell a story). The simple answer is to employ a narrative style throughout and to chain sentences in a way that tells a good story. Something to think about.

Here’s my corporate blog writing for the week:

Disability and the Law describes how by contrast, your life may seem less complicated than the above three strange and horrifying tales from Quebec of murder, extradition, and disabilities. It’s written to those who’ve had their disability claim denied and are looking for qualified legal representation.

 

What are Injured Homemakers Worth in ICBC’s Eyes? describes ICBC regulations that apply to mothers and homemakers who are injured in MVAs (motor vehicle accidents).

 

A Week of Writing, June 3 – 10

One of the beauties of corporate blogging of course, is to be able to do it from anywhere. As I’ve been quick to irritate my friends and co-workers by saying, “If I can work from home, I can work from the South of France”, which is exactly what I did last winter. This week, however, I’m writing from Toronto where I’m holed up researching and writing for Webtech Wireless’ InterFleet division (headquartered in ultra trendy west King street area). Once again, much of my work is research and less finished projects, so get ready for the deluge when all this stuff goes to print.

How Voluntary Disability Insurance Works describes the recent story of how the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada has introduced a flexible set of voluntary group disability insurance options.

 

 

Could You Live on 25% of Your Wages? describes the sad tale of Pat Tillapaugh of Burnaby who was in an MVA (motor vehicle accident) and found that her loss-of-work coverage from ICBC amounted to only 25% of her wages.

 

This week, I interviewed a client at LA County Transit about the InterFleet GPS devices they use to track the whereabouts of their 38 mini vans and buses. They approached me to write the story although their isn’t yet much content. There isn’t really a story, but I’ll probably write a little slice-of-life blog post about how their using this technology.

 

I also drove up from Toronto to the City of Vaughan (a satellite/service town of Toronto) to interview the senior engineering assistance for their Public Works department about how their GPS winter fleet management solution is equally effective in summer (on grass mowers instead of snow plows). I asked a few questions about business intelligence (the buzz in the industry) and non rolling asset watcher devices, piquing their interest in technology InterFleet is also now offering. Maybe I helped make an additional sale.

A Week of Writing, May 21 – 31

Okay, it’s a long week (ten days). There’s been a lot of research going on in the background (not ready for release), but the following corporate web-based posts provide the overview. Of note, I finally finished managing the French translation of the InterFleet brochure. The company I’ve hired, Anglocom, is a joy to work with. To me they should form the template for how other companies manage communications and customer service. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to put together a first class brochure confidently in French.

Spinal Care Available from ICBC considers how spinal injuries affect British Columbians. Many spinal injuries result from motor vehicle accidents and every MVA means a trip to ICBC with the risk of your claim not being settled in your best interests.

Canada’s Top-Five Employers for People with Disabilities surveys partnerships large companies have developed with disability societies. This cross-country survey of best employers for people with disabilities describes initiatives taken by five employers.

Webtech WirelessNextBus to Provide Real-Time Passenger Information to CyRide is a news release I wrote that among other things, (posting to the Webtech Wireless website and wider circulation), seems to have resulted in an article with Business in Vancouver. Nelson Bennett, writer for BIV, wrote his article liberally borrowing the quote I obtained over the phone from Project Manager, Barbara Neal in Iowa.

Braving Paris—by Bicycle (Part II)

In Part I, I described some of the catches with Velib’ that makes it difficult and how to get around them. Now I’ll describe how to return your bike and some good routes in Paris.

Returning Your Velib’ Bicycle

The beauty of Velib’ is that you don’t have to return the bicycle where you picked it up. You can park it at any of the Velib’ stations—if there’s an opening. Here are a few tips about returning the bicycle:

  • You’ll learn to keep your eye out for the line of green lights that identify the stations.
  • Be aware that sometimes the stations are full and you’ll have to cycle to another to drop off the bicycle. Each station has a map of the vicinity showing the proximity of other stations.
  • If your destination is time sensitive, plan extra time in case you aren’t able to park right away. I had little trouble with this, but it is a potential concern if you need to be somewhere on time.
  • When you return the bike, slide it into its slot. A yellow light appears for about ten seconds while it registers your return. It then turns green. Don’t leave until you see the green light; otherwise, you’ll be charged for indefinite use. If the light is flashing or you here a buzzer, there’s a problem with the connection. Try reparking the bicycle or move it to a different stand and try again.

What You Can See

The advantages of cycling in Paris are huge. Velib’ is a jump-on/jump-off transportation solution, and unlike the Metro (which is underground), you can experience the incredible excitement of Paris as you go. Also, many of Paris’ great monuments are close to each other—well within the 30-minute free grace period.

Here are some of my itineraries and approximate travel times (all my trips started in the Marais near Place de la Revolution)

  • Pont Sully / Ile Saint-Louis / Bertillon ice cream (famous in Paris) (20 minutes). Caught a beautiful sunset silhouetting Notre Dame by the Seine.
  • Ile de la Cite / Notre Dame / Pantheon (45 minutes) – Night right around these monuments. Each monument has its own distinctive lighting style.
  • Rue St. Germaine backstreets to La Tour Eiffel – (20 minutes). There’s a warren of backstreets with fascinating shops. Lots of Velib’ stations if you want to park and walk for a bit too. I got caught in an insane traffic jam on the Champs D’Elysée with repercussions all the way to Avenue de l’Opéra and Tivoli. Nothing was moving, not even bicycles.
  • Musée Gustave Moreau / Ile de la Musique (45 minutes between the two) – Moreau was an influential romantic painter. His studio and living quarters have been preserved. From there I cycled to the other end of town to Ile de la Musique to see the museum of rare and antique musical instruments.
  • Chateau de Vincennes / Palais du Louvre (45 minutes each way) – this was an epic journey out to the medieval chateau in Vincennes (take in some of the Bois de Vincennes park if you can) and then downtown to the Louvre. Yes, I did this in one day. The cycling was easy compared to all the history and culture I took in. I was exhausted.

Doing the Right Thing

Yesterday, I toured the Basilica de Saint-Denis in the Paris suburb of the same name. Why, on my first day in Paris, I would visit the suburbs may be a mystery to some, but I wanted to start at the beginning and in terms of basilicas and Paris and indeed France, this is where it all begins. Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and his remains are interred here along with those of a great deal of France’s royalty from Dagobert to Marie-Antoinette.

I started in Saint-Denis not just to see the gothic church that inspired all others—Saint-Denis’s firsts include its beautiful rose windows, and its pointed arches—but I think there’s an anti-revolutionary spirit in me. I know that revolutions never replace an ancien regime with anything better, if the revolutionaries do not live the qualities they aspire to. It’s always an inside job. Gandhi had it right.

Over the last few months, I’ve been given the opportunity to place my values in front of my needs and am the better for it. There is a business application for this that I embrace—it has to do with doing what’s right. Here are three examples:

  • At the tail end of a contract, my manager was let go and I ended with four days of my time owing to the company. Later, the replacement manager asked me if he could hire me back. This is common sense, but while I could have signed a new contract and never mentioned the four days owing (nobody but me would have known), I offered up my four days. As the new manager didn’t know what sort of budget he had, this was enormously helpful, and later paved the way for him to hire me back for an additional four-month contract. Honesty is its own reward.
  • Likewise, I quoted 24 hours to a client to copy edit his 30-page financial report. I must be getting good at copy editing because the entire job (including the copy edit and designing a new template and style sheet), took me only 6 hours. With the previous example of integrity in my head, it was easy to ignore the little devil on my shoulder and bill only my working hours, not the proposed contracted hours.
  • Finally, a fellow musician in Montreal put out a panicked message to all her clarinet-playing colleagues on facebook for a certain part of music she needed. I responded that I was too busy packing for my trip to help her. During the day though, I kept thinking about that rare clarinet part and gradually found that it was easy to locate it in a box of my music, scan the section she wanted, optimize it into a compressed PDF, and finally post it to my site where she could download it.

The fascinating part for me was not that I did these things, but that they got done simply by me not resisting their accomplishment. I under-promised and over-delivered.

Basilica Saint-Denis

Where it all begins

Communication – How to Keep your Clients Happy

I sit in cafés watching the patrons tapping away at their laptops or PDAs and wonder how many of them are billing hours for their labours. If they are, I also wonder how they maintain communication with their clients. Are they off in a dream of worker freedom or are they providing value for their clients at least as effectively as if they were in the corporate office?

Having worked from home as both employee and contractor, I know that the only way it can be effective is if I can ensure that the trust between me and my clients (boss) is rock solid. How I do that is through communication. Below are some of the communication tools I’m using:

Skype Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. It’s one of my favourite tools—so much so that I often use it during business hours in Vancouver to save my cell phone minutes. Last year, when I was in Portugal, I found that the Skype connection on my iPod (needs WiFi) was better than on the laptop.
Google Talk Google Chat is good because your clients can contact you on a moment’s notice (provided you both have it open). By seeing I’m online and available, my clients can have the assurance that I’m working on their projects, etc. etc.
Cell Phone Want to run your laptop and phone abroad and not sure what to do? I was in Foreign Electronics the other day picking up a power adapter and they advised me to remove the SIM card from my phone on arrival in France and just use my phone for WiFi only. I’ve already ensured that all the hotels where I’m staying have WiFi, so if I need to talk, I can use Skype. If I want a cell phone, I can pick up a local SIM card (check that your phone accepts one – my iPhone 5 doesn’t).
Web Texting Most cell providers, such Roger’s, allow you to send and receive text messages through their web site free. So, if you’re working very remotely from, say, the south of France, you’ll want to keep your texting as low cost as possible.

It’s a Digital Life – Writing for the Web

When writing a blog (or any type of web writing), you are writing for an audience that’s fickle and distracted. There’s just too much information, so they flit about and if they encounter a challenge (such as poor organization, rambling prose, padded sentences), they bail. Web readers will not read your writing, unless it is written to their needs.

Web readers read differently:

  • They don’t read screens as easily as pages.
  • They tend to scan and forage for the content they want.
  • They don’t read in a linear fashion—they follow links and move about.

The general rule for web writing is to write shorter sentences, but little information is ever provided on how to write shorter sentences. The maxim, “Ride the horse in the direction it’s headed” is appropriate here. If you organize your information in a way that follows how people read, your blog is more likely to be read.

Saint John Transit gets Wireless Upgrade

SaintJohn-110617-01web

Back in February 2010, Webtech Wireless expanded its InterFleet® implementation with the city of Saint John, New Brunswick to include an additional 100 public works and police vehicles—a contract valued at over $100,000. Now to complement the city’s Interfleet solution, Saint John Transit also plans to deploy a Webtech Wireless solution—NextBus.

NextBus will provide Saint John Transit with an AVL tracking solution for its 60 buses, allowing riders to check bus arrivals in real-time. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS text messaging, riders get real-time travel information (each bus is fitted with a satellite tracking system) designed to help them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll. Currently, riders can only view a static schedule of intended bus arrivals and departures on the company’s web site.

NextBus will also install five LCD screens at various locations around the city, including McAllister Place Malland the university campus (UNBSJ) and LED screens at bus stops. To help make public transport more attractive to potential riders (and as a nod to Saint John Transit’s already existing environmental initiatives), the service will add to the city’s existing hot spots with free WIFI for riders on all its buses.

About NextBus

A subsidiary of Webtech Wireless, San Francisco-based NextBus implements real-time passenger information systems used by dozens of transit agencies, universities and other transit operators across North America. Because traffic variations, breakdowns, and day-to-day problems faced by any transit provider can interrupt service, NextBus was designed to help keep riders on schedule even if their buses aren’t. NextBus uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.

As Canada’s oldest incorporated city and New Brunswick’s largest municipality, the city of Saint John has been providing municipal services for more than two centuries. According to Statistics Canada, the Saint John municipal area has a population of 122,389, with a population density of 36.4 persons per square kilometre.

old_saint-john

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation.

The Port of Saint John is one of Canada’s most important ports (its relatively mild maritime climate keeps its deep-water harbour ice-free year round when inland ports in the St. Lawrence Seaway must contend with ice). This keeps the city’s businesses and industries bustling throughout the year. In 2010 for the first time ever, the Port of Saint John exceeded 30 million metric tonnes of cargo in a single year.

About Saint John Transit

Saint John Transit was established in 1979 to provide scheduled transit service to the city. It replaced City Transit Limited (1948-1979) and a string of others dating back to the People’s Street Railway Company (1869-1876). Saint John Transit is the largest public transit system in the province, both by mileage and passengers.

Saint John Transit Statistics

Saint John Transit’s ridership is approximately 50 percent higher than the average for Canadian cities with a population of between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • Number of vehicles: 60
  • Ridership: 2.5 million riders per year

Current active fleet bus types:

Greening Saint John

To reduce auto emissions, the City of Saint John, along with the Federal and Provincial governments, is investing in public transportation between uptown Saint John and outlying communities. Branded as ComeX (Community Express), it provides a rapid bus transport service during peak commuting times.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

With the implementation of ComeX, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 1,500 metric tonnes and downtown traffic will decrease by 800 vehicles a day over the next five years.

Using NextBus on Your Smartphone

Below is another excerpt from the Webtech Wireless blog I’ve been working on. As a corporate blog, I try to balance clear concise professional writing with a personable informal tone often not possible in other corporate materials. So, the purpose of a blog is not merely to blast potential readers with the same material they’d find elsewhere, but rather, it’s an opportunity for a company to show  a more human face and reach out a real people.

Excerpt

Just as the adoption of the cell phone became universal a decade and a half ago, the smartphone is now a ubiquitous part of life for most urbanites. According to New York Times writer, Damon Darlin, “historians will remember the advent of the smartphone as something as important as the elevator, air conditioner and automobile.”

The implication for transit companies is clear: adopt an AVL solution or face irritation and disinterest from your ridership. Fortunately, transit authorities are reading the writing on the wall and many of them are choosing NextBus—for its reliability and simplicity.

“NextBus, a wonderful Web site that monitors the arrival of city buses in many big cities, is a godsend.”

While there is no official phone application for Nextbus, the simplicity of the NextBus website makes it easy to use on most smartphones.

To access NextBus using a smartphone:

  1. Using your smartphone’s web browser (such as Safari), access the NextBus website: www.nextbus.com.
  2. Choose the mobile version or the full-featured website.
  3. Select your location, your transit agency, your route, and then your stop.The most current prediction for the arrival time of the next vehicle is displayed.
  4. You also can add your stop info to your home screen so it will be instantly available.
  5. If a prediction is already displayed on your smartphone, simply push the ‘refresh’ link at the bottom of the page to get the most up to date information.

Writing a corporate blog

I recently wrote a corporate blog and came upon some interesting considerations. It’s one thing to write a blog for one’s own site, but to write on behalf of someone else (i.e., a company) is another matter. There’s of course the matter of style and tone, but what is appropriate especially if there are no clear guidelines.

You may have to spin things slightly to represent the best interests of your employer, but don’t be insincere—people sense it. The story I wrote, Iridium satellites not affected my recent solar storms, concerned the effects of recent solar storms on the company’s GPS location-based tracking services. I realized that it was important not to represent their technology as vulnerable or the solar storms as alarmist.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Focus on the positive – plays down concerns in the title
  • In first sentence, I use end focus to draw attention to reliability of products/services of company “…has had no affect on Iridium satellites”.
  • I chose a beautiful and re-assuring image of the aurora borealis, instead of something that might cause concern.
  • I was given permission to use images found on the internet (always something to consider), but because I didn’t think the site where I found this image was one I wanted to highlight, I buried the source credit in the code for the image.