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What I learned from the #TOCS2013 workshop at @BioversityIntl on technical online communications

Last week I had the great opportunity of attending the Technical Online Communicators workshop of the CGIAR Consortium that was held at the Bioversity International headquarters in Rome, Italy. As usual, I blogged, tweeted, live posted everywhere I could (from Facebook to LinkedIn and Storify) what was happening at this event.

With a terrific facilitator in the person of Peter Casier and with a wonderful group of people attending the workshop, I would like now to share my impressions on what I`ve learned from the #TOCS2013 workshop.

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Exceeding expectations: Although most of the times people don`t know what to expect from a workshop like this or think that only their technical issue should be discussed, their expectations are usually overcomed. I came expecting to learn a little bit more about what tools to use on social media and how to (re)design great website. I went back home with knowledge that far exceeded my expectations.

No one is an expert at everything: Among 20+ participants, 1/3 were content creators and 2/3 web developers or web admins. There were coders, app developers, different CMS fan(atic)s: from WordPress to Drupal and Joomla (they all got a fair defense). In such a diverse crowd, we learned to accepted our difference and worked better by including them.

Social Media strategies: The best strategy on social media is to target your content on those networks that hold a big number of your target audience. Don`t try to be anywhere and everywhere because it`s a waste of time and money. Instead try to create good, positive content and spread it to people that have a genuine interest in your organization. Think about it: If you are a research organization in quantum physics, do you really need to be on Facebook?

Web optimization: Today, “fast is best“. You could have a great single page HTML5 design with parallax, but if the website is too slow, your traffic will decline. Don`t try to have the greatest design the world has ever design, but the best website. Check each day your website`s speed using different browsers (from IE6 upwards to Firefox and Chrome) and ask friends from different parts of the world to test your website`s speed for you too. Remember: the speed with which your website loads for you might be totally different in other regions (Africa, Asia, LAC) where the bandwidth is smaller or where people can`t afford the latest PC like you.

Google Analytics for Dummies: If you have ever doubted the power of website analytics, you shouldn`t do it anymore. Just check out your PageRank and afterwards go your analytics (on Google Analytics, CGNet or other tools). Through a simple analysis, you can see what`s wrong in that picture: very few references for your website, a huge bounce rate or, perhaps, too much traffic from search engines and direct traffic. Mastering analytics can show you how to increase traffic to your website and improve your PageRank. As always, you just need to start learning!!!

Revamping websites: In order to redesign an institutional website, you don`t just slap a new template/theme on it and it`s done. You need to think about intranets, repositories, content migration, new structures, widgets/plugins/extensions/modules, target audience, usability. You have to consider both the front and back end interface as you might not be the only one that will be using it. In summary, you have to make a plan, to gather a team and to prepare for the unforeseen.

Fashion trends: If a few years ago, everybody wanted a presentation website for their institution and now they all want to blog, we start to wonder what the future will bring. We`re seeing the appearance of single page websites with minimalistic designs; HTML5/CSS3 is taking over in all design trends and infinite scrolling appears also to be a future trend. The Macaroni Bros gave a beautiful presentation on future trends in web design.

In the cloud: Would you choose a shared or a dedicated server for your website? Would you host it in the cloud? When choosing a hosting providing, you have to fundament your decision on clear, technical facts, not on a recommendation from someone. You have to take into account uptime, support needed & provided, customization of your server and other key factors.

Online repositories: No person or institution has enough storage space on its servers to accommodate all its needs and to fulfill all requirements. This is why many choose to store files in cloud: from Google Drive to Dspace and other providers. Some store files on social networks (Flickr for photos, Slideshare for presentations etc.), while some decided to “do it the old fashion way” and upload files on their own servers. No single option has only benefits or only disadvantages. Choose wisely!

 Choosing a CMS: When choosing a CMS for your new/revamped CMS, don`t automatically go for the same old one or one of “the big three” (WordPress/Drupal/Joomla). Consider what you want from a CMS, who will work with it (both on a technical side and as content creator) and if proper technical support will be available in the upcoming years. You should also take a look at promising new CMS-es like Radiant, Frog, iWeb or MODx. They might prove to be better for what you need. Always research your CMS needs and, remember, DroomlaPress isn`t on the market yet!

Back of the bus gang: Of course, the best thing at meetings like the #TOCS2013 are the people. Meeting people like Sandra Caya, Darell Sison, Samuel Stacey, Mulugeta Bayeh and many others like them was the best part of attending this workshop. I enjoyed their company greatly and, although we`re now the “back of the bus geeks” (for reasons beyond our control:D), I hope to see them all soon again.

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