Yesterday Michigan State University College of Law hosted “Building a Better Lawyer: Design Thinking, Training, and Study.” It was a workshop put on by MSU Law professor Dan Linna and his Legal RnD team, and co-led by Margaret Hagan, the founder of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School. Margaret and Dan are two of the top figures within legal tech innovation, and they spent hours leading large and small group discussions about facilitating innovation, and how to build better lawyers. Lansing, Michigan is 2,289 miles away from Seattle but, thanks to Stephen Embry’s phenomenal post about the workshop, I, too, was able to learn from Margaret and Dan’s expertise.

The Oxford Dictionary defines citizen journalism quite simply as “The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the internet.” I prefer NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s take on the definition:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

The internet is an indelible part of our lives today and, though that may at times be problematic, it has also thrown open the doors and allowed us to access information at an unprecedented rate. Through blogging and social media anyone with an internet connection can become a journalist; sometimes it’s silly, like the people on Instagram who report on their meals by sharing pictures of their food, other times it’s tragically important, like the interviews that student journalist David Hogg conducted with his classmates during the Parkland shooting.

LexBlog has always run on citizen journalism, and it’s become even more important as we’ve opened our own doors and begun pushing towards our goal of becoming the world’s largest legal news network. We want to hear from you, because your voice matters. We want to read about your thoughts on proposed legislation changes, workshops or learning events you’ve attended, and anything and everything in between (okay, we don’t really need to hear about what you ate for lunch). As Jared Sulzdorf, our Director of Project Development, pointed out at our all-hands meeting, “The law is all about opinions, and writing helps you shape your opinions.”

Accessibility, also known as “a11y”, refers to how well a website functions for people with disabilities. Common examples of disabilities in this space include visual conditions like color-blindness, vestibular conditions like animation nausea, and motor disabilities such as cerebral palsy, which happens to be the focus of this article.

The Feature

I am tasked with creating a “jump menu” for navigating tag archives.  Something like this:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

There is no submit button.  By merely selecting a menu item, the page navigates to that particular tag archive.  The premise of this UI is that, by not having to click a “submit” button, we save the user time and decision-making, hopefully improving the experience.

The Problem

This all works well enough, assuming you’re using a mouse.  But what happens if you’re using a keyboard?  Continue Reading How We do Accessibility: A Case Study

As a Business Development Manager at LexBlog, I’m regularly talking with new and existing customers. One topic that has come up twice in the last week was about GDPR and what LexBlog is doing as we approach the May 25th, 2018 deadline when GDPR will go into effect.

We live in a world where everything revolves around data. From visiting websites, using an app or going shopping, our personal data is being collected. This is why GDPR was created.

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation. This regulation is intended to give individuals more control over their data within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

Under the terms of GDPR, organizations have to ensure that personal data is gathered legally and under strict conditions. Those who also collect and manage the data will also have to protect it from misuse and exploitation or face penalties for not doing so.

If your organization operates in the EU or offers goods and services to customers or businesses in the EU then GDPR applies to you.

What we are doing at LexBlog

LexBlog is working with our counsel on compliance with the GDPR, and our email service provider for the blogs, MailChimp, is as well.

As far as cookies go, we provide a cookie disclaimer as a feature option on Apple Fritter. Please feel free to take a look at huntonimmigrationlawblog.com for an example of our cookie disclaimers.

We can’t provide legal advice for GDPR and compliance as this also depends on our customers’ use of the platform and subscriber data. However, we can outline how the email system currently works so you can determine with your attorneys if you would like to make any changes to the blog emails:

  1. A user enters their email address in a subscribe form on the sidebar of your blog. Disclaimer text may be added below the subscribe form.
  2. The user is sent an email asking to click a link to confirm their subscription to your blog. The text in this email can be changed upon request.
  3. When a user clicks the confirmation link, they are added to your subscriber list, taken to a thank you page, and sent a welcome email. The text in this email can be changed upon request.
  4. In each email notification they are sent, they can click a link to Unsubscribe to stop receiving emails or Update their subscription by changing their email address.
  5. A user may also unsubscribe by contacting you, LexBlog or MailChimp. They will receive a confirmation email of their unsubscription. They won’t be sent any email unless they subscribe again, but a record of their subscription will remain in the database.
  6. A user or your firm may contact LexBlog or MailChimp to be deleted from the subscriber list, in which case they won’t receive any more emails, and they will be removed from the database.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out to our support team at success@lexblog.com

When people ask me what they should do to get started on blogging, I rarely talk technology or even blogging. While those are important elements of blogging, they are next steps. Things you do after you decide you want to blog and have found your tribe and your voice.

Ask yourself this, when you decide you want to start blogging. Who am I blogging for? If your answer is everyone, you are not going to be happy. Nor is anything you are about to read going to help you.

When you are right you are looking for an audience. I want you to go online and find a person that embodies that audience for you. This should be a person, not a brand or a company. At the end of this little exercise, you should have just one name.

Now go online and learn more about that person. Look for the following things:

  • Are they reachable online?
  • Do they write online?
  • Do they use social media?
  • Do they follow other people?

If the answer to the majority of the above questions is NO. Forget that person for now and find another person until the majority of these criteria are going to be met.

This person should be your goal.

You will follow them, connect with them and ultimately get them to follow you. If you fail on that front, don’t worry, what you pick up in the meantime in terms of knowledge and other people to connect with, will make it worthwhile.

So what do you need to get started.

  • The person from above
  • An email account
  • An RSS reader like Feedly
  • A Twitter account
  • A Facebook account
  • A LinkedIn account

Check out where this person writes. Do they have a newsletter you can subscribe to? If so, sign up. If they have RSS on their blog, subscribe to it.

Now head over to social media and follow them on Twitter first. It is the easiest entry point. Do not fill your Twitter account with noise. Try and make it a useful tool. Not a reflection of who you are, but who you would like to become.

After you have checked Twitter, visit Facebook. Some people use their Facebook accounts more casually than others. See what they have publicly available. If it is not much, odds are they are using it for just family and friends. If that is the case, move on for now. You can always revisit them later and reconnect.

Facebook is a powerful tool. People use it differently than both Twitter and LinkedIn, but people are also a lot fussier about their Facebook accounts. So be thoughtful. Don’t rush to friend somewhere there unless they are appear to be very open with their friending policy.

With LinkedIn, connect with them, but make sure you tell them why. You are not using a shotgun approach here. Be thoughtful in a note with your connection request.

Alright now comes the fun part. Start to learn from what you just did. Read their work. See who they share with. Are those also people you would be interested in following? If so, repeat the above process.

Now start liking and sharing their work. Where possible make thoughtful comments.

After establishing a rapport with a person, they will most likely follow you back. If not keep at it and keep looking for people who meet the same criteria of the first person you followed and repeat the process. Eventually your tribe will begin to grow.

Congratulations! Without even typing a single post, you have taken your first step towards ensuring that when you do start blogging, you will reach the people that matter to you.

But before you do that, you should probably consider finding your voice. I will write about that in my next post.

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task, whether it’s software or hardware.

This week we are featuring another tool that helps us open up multiple links without clicking on each link individually. Linkclump is a Google Chrome extension which lets users open, copy, or bookmark multiple links at the same time.

Why Linkclump?
Especially, after Open Multiple URLs (an extension that serves a similar purpose) was featured last week? The answer is that they address different scenarios where you may need to check a large number of links. Open Multiple URLs is great if your already have a list of URLs ready to be pasted into the extension’s textbox, but if the list of links is on a webpage (including Google Sheets) then Linkclump is more efficient as it will open up those links (in new tabs or new windows) simply by dragging a selection box around them.
hmm donuts

Additional Features
Besides opening up links, Linkclump can also also bookmark those links or copy them into clipboard. These features, along with other settings can be manage from its Options page.

So take your pick, see which one suits your need, or try them both. If you use another tool to open multiple URLs at the same time, please comment below and let us know.

As Jared wrote earlier, we employ several tools to make support documentation easily available to our users. In addition to those tools making our software easier to use, the content and structure of each article should help users quickly complete a task or understand a concept. How a piece of text contributes to a reader’s comprehension is what technical writers refer to as readability.

After joining LexBlog in 2016, I quickly focused on how we write, organize, and share customer-facing help articles. One particular task has taken me a year and counting: structuring all of our docs for readers who don’t have time to read.

 

Some points about our users

When I write or edit articles, I have to remember these points about our users:

  • On the web, people don’t read. They scan. User eyes are very good at skipping to the content they need.
  • Our users are busy. When looking at a help article, they need to find relevant content quickly. Nobody has time to read four pages about, well, anything.
  • Our users are diverse. Some of our users are seasoned web developers. Others have never logged into a blog in their life. Some may use accessibility software to help them read text on a page. Others may not speak English as their first language, so translation software helps them with the text.
  • Users get frustrated. Often a user doesn’t look at documentation until something goes wrong. The person reading a help article may already be confused, frustrated, or lost.

 

Structuring and writing support articles

It may sound like a contradiction — writing for people who don’t read everything on the page — but a few simple techniques improve an article’s readability. These are the general rules I follow when writing or editing help articles:

  • Keep it consistent. Our docs should follow the same, predictable format. New users who need more details can read more of the document. Experienced users who just need a refresher can skip straight to the parts they need.
  • Put important information up top. User eyes spend more time at the top of a webpage. So we put important messages higher in the docs. It’s a good idea to tell a baker to preheat the oven before they mix the batter.
  • Keep it short. Articles are brief and focused. Short, descriptive titles should tell you what the article is about. We limit sentences to 25 words, while paragraphs are generally limited to four sentences. If a concept requires more explanation, we may link to another source.
  • Use headers and lists. Clear, useful headers help a reader’s eyes skip to the information they need. Lists group together similar ideas or instruct users on how to perform a task. Using both of these elements can help break up a wall of text.
  • Use simple words. Technical writing is delightfully boring. We avoid jargon and pretension.

 

Learn more about readability

As I mentioned, restructuring our support articles is an ongoing task. Users like fixing their own problems, and clear, readable documentation can help them do so.

Here are some of the sources I regularly consult about writing for readers on the web:

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task, whether it’s software or hardware.

automagically
ADVERB
informal
(especially in relation to the operation of a computer process) automatically and in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable, or magical.

Automagically is how we like your LexBlog blogs to perform. To achieve that we use numerous tools and tricks, the one featured this week is a nifty browser extension called Open Multiple URL.

Open Multiple URL enables the users to open up multiple sites simultaneously within the browser by simply pasting in URLs. It also has the ability to extract URLs from a whole bunch of HTML.

Admittedly, the open URLs function works better than URL extraction (got some false positives). In fact, you need to be careful with how many links you try to open at the same time. From my experience, if I open 50 to 60 URLs I will hear my laptop’s fans sounding like the engines of 747 during take off; anything beyond that will slow down my Chrome browser to the point that I begin to have flashback from the days of running Window 95 with 4MB of RAM. But your experience may vary depending on the performance of your computer. Just play with it and find out your machine’s limit.

So how is Open Multiple URL used in LexBlog? We use it when we need to do perform visual inspections on sites, which is becoming much less frequent than it used to be thanks to the wonderful codes written by LexBlog developers. But there are still occasions where it’s quicker to perform visual checks than have the developers write dedicated commands: double checking inactive domains to make sure no mistakes were made, visual checks on feature implementations or improvements that only affect only small number of sites, etcetera.

Here at LexBlog, we are all fans of technology. And as someone who witnessed the era of Betamax, 8tracks, and rotary dial phones I’m glad that manual process is involved not just to manage internal projects and provide external support, but also to ensures our clients’ blogs work Automagically.

While Google does a great many things well, I have been cynical about their search results for a while now. They do a good job generally serving up what I need on the 1st page of results.

This is not all that impressive, sine these results are nearly universal. You just link to a result on Wikipedia or Amazon for broad subjects. Or find a decent blog or newspaper for long tail search.

What concerns me, and makes me question Google results, is when I get to page 2. There I start seeing things like this when searching for the 1971 board game Stay Alive by Milton Bradley.

Yes, that is a link to the board game from the venerable retailer, Sears. This piqued my interest, so I clicked on it. The results were not particularly useful or high-quality.

It is a generic page with dummy text and broken images. Which does not exactly fit in well with Google’s commitment to surface high-quality content. It also makes me question the dependability of their algorithm when such an obvious low value result makes it the 2nd page. Well above much more useful and informational blog posts on page 3 and beyond.

I know most of us do not click deep on Google. It does such a good linking to a couple of high-quality sites. But if they control over 75% of the search market, they need to commit to doing a better job of surfacing content.

They can start by eliminating results from e-commerce sites that no longer carry an item or in the case of this sears result, probably never did.

When I moved to Seattle and began working at LexBlog as a full-time Account Manager in the summer of 2013, one of the first things I began doing was organizing my inbox in a way that would let me easily find a certain class of questions  and answers. This was primarily because at that time, LexBlog had no central repository of documentation for publishers using our platform. In this world, questions were a dime a dozen, but answers were in short supply or trapped in the brains of long-time LexBlog employees. Fortunately, the same or similar questions would come up time and time again, and each new question would get tagged and organized in a way that let me find it and other similar questions so that the next time it came up, the answer was just a few clicks away.

This might seem like a product piece for Gmail (it’s not, but Gmail sure is swell!), but far from it. This was an onerous, time-consuming process for all parties involved. On my end, my inbox was a mess, with emails from dozens of customers every day asking me how to do something when just the day before a colleague of theirs at the firm had asked the same question. Meanwhile, our customers were wondering how to do something and, finding no resources at their disposal, would email yours truly and wait patiently for a reply. When an employee at a firm would leave, someone new would take on the responsibility of managing the site and have to relearn everything on the fly.

We made it through those days through the power of fantastic employees who were truly dedicated to answering questions thoroughly and with a smile on their face. LexBlog is a company that prides itself on providing top-notch service and support, and it was (and still is) a necessity to be quick, nimble, and thoughtful, but things have gotten considerably better over the years. Those same great employees still exist, but our systems and knowledge management tools are considerably different.

Continue Reading A New Set of Tools for LexBlog’s Support Center

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task.

For the inaugural post of Tools, I’d like to feature an app that’s frequently used here at LexBlog: Integrity

Integrity is a link checking app for Mac that’s been used by LexBlog for many years. Whether it is launching a new blog or migrating an old one, we use Integrity to check for broken links, images, attachments, and etc. Although with the improvements implemented over the years the number of broken links or objects have decreased significantly, we still run Integrity checks for all launches. Let’s face it, broken images or links are simply unprofessional.

The results Integrity returns are quite straightforward: the link text, the link’s address, where it’s found, and the type of error (if any). And you can sort them by link, page, status, or just view everything at once with flat view. Those who prefer doing more analysis with the results can exporting into a .csv or .xlsx file.

Something to be mindful of when using Integrity is to find an optimal setting for the number of threads you would like to crawl at once; the higher it is the faster the sooner the task will be completed but it also increase the likelihood of false positives (links not loading due to server’s limited capacity) or IP address being flag as malicious attacker. As such, You’ll need to play around and find the optimal threads setting.

So, if you need to check broken links or objects, give Integrity a try. If you use Integrity already, how you like it?