Effective Messaging
No. 84
March, 2013

It used to be pretty quiet around these parts in the dead of winter, but no more. The whole month of March is devoted to the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. There are 56 events throughout the county.

I'll be leading a workshop on "Writing for the Web" Tuesday, March 19 from 6-8 at the Lenox library. I hope you'll join me. More about that in the first article. Guys are welcome, by the way.

The second article tells the fascinating story of Siri's origins. Doing the research reminded me of the days long ago when I was a pioneer in collaborative computing and knew such icons as Doug Englebart and Paul Saffo. If you have a few minutes, the story from the Huffington Post is definitely worth a read.

I'm excited to report that 36 people clicked through to our home movie of me snow shoeing in the last issue. We're just back from a wonderful ski vacation in Steamboat Springs, CO. Sorry, no movies of that.   

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In This Issue
Writing for the Web - Workshop 3-19 in Lenox
Siri's Backstory - Where she came from
Web Tips - A treasure trove
Growing Season
Writing for the Web
Berkshire Festival of Women Writers
If you're anywhere near the library in Lenox, MA on Tuesday, March 19 6-8 PM, please attend my workshop "Writing for the Web."  And tell everyone you know about it, too.

Why? Because it's going to be fun, educational and productive. (Please note the sequence.) I'm going to reveal some of my secrets and provide an environment for you to start on a writing project of your own.

You'll meet some interesting people, too. At least you will if you help me spread the word. Otherwise, you'll just meet me.

The Right Medium

In just 300 to 500 words (the length for Web writing), I can't tell you everything I'm going to share in two hours. In fact, it's the wrong medium for that. But, this newsletter is the right medium for sharing links. And the workshop is not.

Here are a few links you can follow before next Tuesday that will give you the flavor of the workshop. Hopefully, they will inspire you to show up for more. But if you're not going to be there, you'll still get something from the rest of this article. And that, by the way, is the key message about communicating online: Provide value to your reader.


Here are a few of my favorite online writers. Newsletters first:

Suzanne Bates publishes Thoughts for Tuesday. Her business is communication skills for CEO's, yet her style is light, personal and down to earth. Read this entry and you'll see what I mean.

Michael Katz is well known in the online newsletter world. He inspired me to build my own newsletter business. Like Bates, he uses personal stories to make his point. Here's an example.

I know both of these writers personally, but I've never met  Claire Diaz-Ortiz. I discovered her blog online and read it from time to time even though her field isn't of direct interest. She specializes in using Twitter for non-profit causes.

Here are two articles that provide sound advice about communicating online.

This one offers "A dozen online resources for writers."

"How to write for the web: 23 useful rules"covers some things I'll be talking about in my workshop such as "the short sentences rule" and "the conversational tone rule." But it also offers things like "the wiggly left margin rule" and the "Death to PRspeak rule."

That's it for rules. I hope to see you, notebook in hand, on Tuesday, March 19 at the Lenox Library from 6-8. Feel free to bring something to eat if that happens to be your dinner time. It's mine.

Siri's Backstory

I've spent a lot of time with Siri since she came into my life at the end of January. I was going to write a lighthearted piece about her amusing responses, but that must wait until next month. I need to tell you what I have learned about her history and how she and her Google counterpart will change our lives.

Siri didn't just magically appear on iPhones on October 4, 2011, the day before Steve Jobs died. Siri was created by a Silicon Valley team of visionaries who cleverly exploited government-funded research. "The goal is a human-enhancing and potentially indispensable assistant that could supplement the limitations of our minds and free us from mundane and tedious tasks." So says a fascinating article published in the Huffington Post.

Siri isn't very forthcoming about her name. Ask her and she'll reply "What does my name mean? I don't think I can explain it in your language. Sorry." But, in fact, the name is a variant of Sigrid. The Indian Siri is associated with Lakshimi, the Hindu goddess for wealth and prosperity. Her creators describe her as a "beautiful woman that leads you to fair victory and wealth."

The History

Siri is a daughter of DARPA. In 2003, the Defense Department joined with SRI International to lead a five-year, 500-person effort to build a virtual assistant to help military commanders with both information overload and office chores. The outcome was CALO--the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes. More about that in this video. It was the largest artificial intelligence (AI) program in history.

Siri was originally designed as an app for the newly introduced iPhone by a start-up company with the same name. According to an early investor, the small company's progress was "absolutely breathtaking." Siri's creators knew their success depended not only on a smart app, but also one that was amusing. They brainstormed snappy comebacks for all the offbeat questions people were likely to ask the assistant.

In 2010, three weeks after Siri debuted as an independently developed iPhone app, Steve Jobs called the developers. He outbid Verizon, and Siri went to live at Apple. In fact, if you ask Siri about her origins, she will tell you she was designed by Apple in California. But, in fact, the Siri we have today is actually a dumbed-down version of the original. If you want to know what your assistant can do, click the little "i" to the right of "What can I help you with?" when you invoke Siri.

What's Next?

The original Siri synced with dozens of other online sources for information. It was far more proactive than our Siri, who, though very helpful, does not anticipate our needs. Apple's Siri had another challenge. She needed to work in nearly 100 countries, speaking lots of difference languages.

Futurists and researchers predict that voice-controlled software like Siri and Google Now will take us from understanding how to use technology to technology that understands us. More than half a dozen Siri-like services launched in 2012 alone. So for now, enjoy your voice-controlled assistant. And look for lots more to come.
Web Tips

Tips2I ran across a treasure trove of cool Web Tips recently. I'll be doling them out over the next few issues.

1. Maybe you knew this already, but if not it will save you hours, I promise. You don't have to type the www for a Web address. Just type "shawenon.com" or "nytimes.com." Try it.

2. Press Alt+D to highlight the address bar at the top of your Web browser. Then you can just type a new address without touching your mouse.

3. This is my favorite. On many smart phones, you can hit the space bar twice for a period, a space and a capitalized next letter. That way you don't have to hunt for the punctuation keys and can still appear literate. You can also type "didnt" and it will add the apostrophe. Just tap the space bar to accept the change. 

And Finally . . .

Shawenon Communications collaborates with small businesses, solopreneurs, professionals and not-for-profits to get their messages across in the written word.

We specialize in electronic communications, including e-zines and other forms of email marketing, Web sites and social media.  We also ghostwrite articles and other business communications. As a solution provider, we resell Constant Contact's email marketing service.


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First name
Susanna Opper
Shawenon Communications

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
Growing Season 
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The snow is melting, the days are longer. It won't be long before it's growing season again. What you should be growing is your mailing list.

All online communication begins with a following--your very own list of people who are interested in what you do.

For more information about building your list, check this out.

To stay in touch with the people on your list, you need  Constant Contact.

 Be in touch to learn how your list can help you grow your business.

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