Web 2.0 Hates (Rural) America

With all of the red state/blue state discussions of the election season, it’s probably no big surprise that kids dropping out of the Ivy League are less than concerned with the plight of being young in rural America.  Imagine having to drive miles to school, to see friends and going to the mall is an occurrence for special occasions? Not that anyone there necessarily laments this existence, in fact, they wear it as a badge of honor.

But with broadband access spreading to places where it was rare a few years ago and with families investing in at least one home computer for their kids, social web applications could really harness the separation of rural communities by developing projects that keep kids in these communities.

I realize that in order for the kill rural app to show up, it would have to be developed by a person or group who experienced rural living and appreciated the simplicity. They’d also have to find ways to use Web 2.0 to galvanize people and motivate them to get involved. The most logical extension of this are local newspapers. More and more of them are adopting these clunky CMS programs that allow them to publish to the web and (presumably) use the web as a platform to generate ad revenue.  But the execution almost always falls flat for a host of reasons.

But that brings me back to the plight of our young friends in rural America. No one cares about what they’re doing, they pick up trends from the cities — late — and don’t really have any way of being heard from in any significant way. Rural communities and states are scrambling to find ways to create jobs to keep their kids. It’s a problem that’s being played out around the world, so American agrarian communities are not somehow excepted. There is a resounding hope that one could leverage the web as a way to stifle the mass exodus and yet, that’s not happening and I doubt it’ll happen anytime soon.

The inspiration for this scatterbrained post came when I stumbled upon this site, another one of the millions of online hookup sites that purport to help you meet the hot friends of your friends. They won’t call it that. They call it “networking” or whatever. But really, it’s just glorified stalking and the stuff is creepy. Let’s be real.

I recognize that folks just go the way of the trends and if one site sells or gets valued at a billion, that 10 copycats a day are born trying to outdo them and 50 more are out there trying to somehow “improve” on the same concept.  When will people start to mine the niches looking for stuff that people can actually use? There are still just a fraction of folks on earth who use the web for much of anything. It’s certainly not an indispensable part of their lives like it can be for some of us.

The future of the web will startups comprised of people who decide that it would be fun and meaningful, to build stuff that people can actually use. There are tons of these cropping up there, with sharp folks doing extremely creative things to help reinvent the way we do business from day to day. If you’re looking for an untapped market, look at rural America. What you do with that is your business, but…just like the world’s poor are folks who can and will leverage technology when they get the access, micropolitan areas have the same potential and promise.

How to become a college web person

I became a “web content” person completely by accident. I saw a job posting, thought I had the skills and applied for it having no idea such jobs actually existed. I mean, we all know that there are web designers or web developers in most places. But a person solely designated just for content? No way, right? Well…it depends on where you go.

I’ve been asked more times than I can remember in recent years, how it’s possible for one to get into this field. There is no real uniform way, since every institution has their own sets of rules, requirements and desires in a potential person in a seat similar to this one. It’s also evolving faster than one can necessarily keep up with. But here are a few starting points that might help:

  1. Have a working knowledge of HTML and new media tools such as blogs, how to develop and deploy podcasts. Some places don’t require their web content person to know much about HTML, because they use content management systems with WYSIWYG interfaces, preferring someone with a journalism background who can edit and rework content, rather than hiring a full-time web geek in a PR office. But it’s still handy to know how to get yourself out of trouble in a CMS and knowing some code will help you there.
  2. Knowing how to write will get you far. It does differ at each institution, but I’ve seen working with a number of institutions — especially smaller schools where people have to wear multiple hats — that it’s handy to know how to write and edit copy. If you can’t, #1 becomes especially important. But if you have a balance of both of these, it’ll make you a marketable person. I think it’s almost more important to know how to write and edit, than it is to know web stuff. You can always learn how to hack through code when you need it. But learning how to write is a skill that doesn’t come quite as easy. Again, it depends heavily on where and what you’re apply to do. But…in most content roles I’ve seen, this is something that’s put at a premium. p.s. if you have clips, assemble them and ask if they want them.
  3. People skills are a good thing to have. Being a web content guru isn’t the same as being an IT person. You’re often put as the unofficial liaison between public relations, (new media or communications) IT, admissions and sometimes the entire campus (especially at small schools.) People will always assume you’re an IT person and get confused about what your role is. It’s critical to be able to work with lots of different kinds of people and to communicate with them about the web and to solicit their feedback and ideas.
  4. WER IZ UR PORTFOLIO? If you’re a web guru, you’ve worked on sites or have sites you current maintain. It’s pretty handy — if they’re not on your resume — to have a set of them you’ll want to provide for them. If you have a personal web site, it’s useful to include that with your resume and have a section on the site where they can find these. I don’t do this all of the time, but if I’m actively searching for jobs, I’ll take the time to rework my site for potential employers. (However, I’d never put my resume out on the web for anybody to search and download. That’s just crazy.)

It’s important to know the job description because while it’s not always accurate — expect it to diverge, as with most jobs — it’ll give you an idea of what they’re looking for. If the person you’d be replacing is on the hiring committee, asking that person questions about the job is a really good thing to do. You have to know as best you can what’s expected of you and whether your skill will be a good fit for the institution.

These ideas are just a start. In regards to looking for higher ed web content jobs, I’ve found resources such as indeed.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Higher Ed Jobs as good resources to knowing what’s out there. Looking at individual school sites can always be very fruitful since a lot of times searches are “national” and might not be listed in any of those publications. It just depends on where you want to work.

Another hint when searching is to look for “web content” as an open-ended query. Because every school has different nomenclature for these roles, each requiring a different set of experiences. Some other titles include “New Media” in the title. It just depends on the school. The trajectory for working “up the ladder” as I’ve seen it — though this isn’t universal — is something like this:

(from lowest to highest)

1. Specialist
2. Editor/Coordinator
3. Manager
4. Director

I’m sure there are others ideas out there, but this should be a start. I’m going to eventually write a post on negotiating your deal if you get offered the job, because I know there have to be other people out there who were like me going into this stuff and having no idea how to do that or what small tips to keep in mind.