Category Archives: Nutshells

Accessibility in a nutshell

The term accessibility has quite specific connotations in the internet world.  It describes the capability of your site to support users with disabilities:

  • colour blindness
  • sight loss (up to and including complete blindness)
  • hearing loss (up to and including deafness)
  • reduced motor skills, etc.

Additionally the disability to be considered may not need to be one that is ‘part’ of the user but could be one imposed on the user by circumstances.  For example accessing your site via a mobile device, or in a bright environment.

Published guidelines

As is the way of the web, a series of guidelines have been developed (see http://www.w3.org/WAI/ for details) that provide tangible steps a site designer can take to address accessibility issues.  These are prioritised as 1,2,3 depending on to what extent your site is to meet accessibility needs.  From the guidelines:

  1. A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents.
  2. A Web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents.
  3. A Web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to Web documents.

A site that meets all priority 1 requirements is given a conformance level of A, priority 2 = AA, priority 3 = AAA.  You’ll see some sites reporting this conformance level.

What guidelines do you need to meet?

Only government sites, or government sanctioned/supported sites may have mandated conformance requirements.  This is particularly the case in the US where federal laws determine the levels of accessibility to be supported.

For the rest of us the choice is private.  Grade A (meeting all level 1 items) can be considered the de-facto standard for any site, irrespective of audience or content.  It includes such straightforward requirements as providing ALT descriptions for all images (so text readers can describe them) and generally using HTML (and particularly CSS) correctly so different presentations can be created easily.

There is considerable work involved in conforming with the higher accessibility grades, particularly if reworking an existing site or content.   We may therefore choose only to go those levels if our particular audience requires it, or if particular elements in our site require it (eg online policies for disabled access would attract more users with accessibility issues and thus warrant higher conformance levels).

Testing compliance

The first step in considering accessibility is reviewing the guidelines and conducting a code review (and/or developing a coding standard depending on project status) which encompasses the core elements.

There are several online tools or services available to allow published sites to be tested easily (and regularly – important if content is changing).  The UK’s Royal Institute for the Blind maintains a comprehensive list of such testing services.  One of the most famous/useful testing sites was Bobby.  Unfortunately this appears unavailable at present.

Accessibility and SharePoint

SharePoint can be configured/developed to provide compliance with several accessibility guidelines.  And for sites requiring a higher level of conformance there is a downloadable Accessibility Kit for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.  This Sharepoint team post on accessibility explains approaches using both standard SharePoint and the accessibility kit.

Conclusion

As any other core business system, an intranet needs to comply with the firm’s directives for supporting staff with disabilities.  The W3C guidelines provide a clear and comprehensive method for assessing, ensuring and displaying that support.

Website copyright in a nutshell

Copyright is simply the protection given to an author to allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labours. It is generated automatically and freely whenever anyone creates an original expression of an idea (be it a web page design, a sound clip, a paragraph in an article, etc).

For anyone creating/administering a website, copyright therefore impacts you in two ways:

  • copyright in your original content (eg protecting your site from others).
  • copyright in non-original content that you are using, and honouring that copyright (eg protecting your site from yourselves)

protecting your site from others

For your site, copyright in its content exists automatically once the content has been created. That copyright continues, also automatically, until a significant period after the author’s death (in Australia its 50 years; other countries 50 or 70 years). You do not need to apply for copyright
or register in any way.

Not all your content is/can be copyrighted. For example facts can not be copyrighted (you cannot sue someone else for repeating your statement that England won the 1966 World Cup). Also non-copyrighted are names, short phrases, or ideas. For example, if you have a great idea for a killer website, and mention that idea on your site, you have no recourse on anyone who actually builds that site. Your idea is not protected, only its expression. Hence to protect it, build it.

To © or not to ©

If you look at most websites, you will find a copyright notice (with the special © character – added as ©). This is actually unnecessary as all countries that are signatories to the Bern Convention (which includes all those you’ve actually a legal chance of having your copyright honoured in) agree to respect your copyright without the symbol/notice.

However adding the notice is recommended, not for legal purposes, but for a prompt to your users that you are serious about protecting your interests. Place it clearly on your home page and all other pages that might attract copying. If you have some content you are happy to be copied under certain conditions, link your copyright prompt to a statement of those terms and conditions.

preventing copying

Obviously copyright does not stop the unscrupulous from copying your hard work. And in reality, there is little that can be done to prevent the determined thief. There are some ways of slowing them down (using secure PDFs, spreading content over multiple pages, etc), and there are lawyers to help when found out, but in reality the best defense against copying is encouraging the reader to view your content, in your context. Provide a reason why it is better to link to your content than copy it, and you may prevent one more copy.

Additionally, it may be prudent to accept that some content will be copied, and provide terms/instructions by which it can be copied “on your terms”. Eg if you’ve written a useful piece of code, let others use it providing they include a reference/link to its origin. This way, whilst you’ve not prevented the copy, what you’ve actually done is convert it into an advertisement!

If you are prepared to allow your content to be copied or developed on (within limits), consider Creative Commons licensing. This alternative to normal copyright protection allows you to specify simply and quickly the terms under which your content can be used by others. For example if you’re happy for your artwork to be used for not-for-profit work but not for commercial gain, then you can add a Creative Commons licence that provides exactly that right.

The Creative Commons movement is building a great deal of momentum worldwide. It is well worth investigating if you feel the “all-or-nothing” approach to existing copyright is not the fairest way forward for your own efforts.

If you find an unauthorised copy

If you are unlucky enough to find a site that is copying your material against your wishes, then you have a variety of options available, best approached in the order shown:

  1. contact the infringing site

    Mail/email the administrator of the infringing site, identifying which of their content is actually infringing your copyright, and detailing exactly what restitution you would like (eg remove it, mention your name, etc). When contacting them, do not immediately assume that the copying is malicious and deliberate. Sometimes the source of material cannot be identified, with even the best intentions. Try and keep it civil, at least at first!
  2. contact the infringing site’s host or service provider.

    If you are unhappy with the response from the site administrator, consider contacting the site’s host or service provider. As a business, they are often more cogniscent of the rights of others, and thus more interested in protecting their own legal interests.
  3. contact a lawyer

    If the copyright infringement is costing you serious money, then get a lawyer. And get a lawyer that specialises in copyright and/or online law. This will cost serious amounts of money, and thus only worthwhile if your reputation, or bottom-line, is being seriously impacted.

Proving it’s a copy

As you can imagine, it’s often difficult to prove someone has copied your content. Obvious clues (like file dates) are easily modified. Therefore if you are significantly worried about copying, consider “seeding” your content.

Seeding entails hiding identifying marks/symbols within your content. For example add a deliberate spelling mistake or two, use a peculiar piece of code, add some useless/unnecessary HTML tags, etc. The aim is to add something that anyone generating the page themselves would not have included; finding these in another site therefore provides strong evidence that they’ve copied your original.

Protecting your site from yourselves

Often it’s not the risk of having to sue others that you need to consider on your site. You can also easily end up where someone is in a position to sue you.

The best defense against unintentional copyright infringement is education. Make sure that all parties that contribute to your site are aware of its requirements. It is also suggested that your formal content publication process (you do have one?) includes a step/check of copyright status.

Who owns your company’s copyrights?

Whilst copyright is normally vested in the author, for employees their standard employment terms usually specify copyright of anything produced whilst employed is vested in the employer. However you might need to check this.

For others providing you with material (consultants, bureaus, contractors, etc) check the terms under which they have been employed. If needing to employ such a third party, ensure the issue of copyright is resolved in the contract.

Remember that for your company documents, just because they have been published in one format, or to one audience, does not necessarily mean that they are free to be published on your website. For example, many annual reports contain stock photos or images. These may have been purchased from a bureau without online publication permission being included in the terms.

If you’d like to copy something…

The purpose of copyright law is not to prevent copying, just to prevent unauthorised copying. Hence, if you find some content, online or otherwise, that you’d like to include on your site you may be able to. The steps to do so are quite simple.

  1. ask the author for permission to copy. If the content is online, this is easy, and often simply requires e-mailing the site owner/administrator.

    When asking, make clear exactly how/where you wish to re-use their content. We won’t give permission to someone to “copy your site”, but if you want to take this article, we’d be more sympathetic.

  2. respect the response given. This can range from “not at all”, through “yes – but with conditions” to an unqualified “yes”.

    Possible conditions can include to identify the origin of the material (with/without a link to it),
    to not alter or modify the material (eg not to take one part deliberately out of context), or not defame or denigrate the original (we don’t all want to be listed on your “worst website of the week” page). As with these examples, they are not often onerous. Most authors will be flattered you want to use their work.

Content not under your control

Your website may contain content that is not under your direct control. For example you may run a discussion forum that the public can contribute to. For such areas you need to demonstrate your own commitment to the law (by notices/terms for submitters) as well as, potentially, monitoring submissions for infringements. And if any are identified, by yourselves or another party, then they should be acted on swiftly.

I don’t want to copy it, just link to it….

For all those who consider the internet a lawless land, the law of copyright applies quite simply and fairly to it. However it is when considering the legal role of hyperlinks that the issue becomes a little greyer. With hyperlinks, sites can ostensibly include content produced
by others, without taking a physical copy. The issue becomes even fuzzier when considering frames: using them it is possible to load an entire site ‘inside your own’ and hence imply ownership of it in all total.

If your presentation of the link or content implies ownership, then you’re potentially up for double legal whammy. If the lawyers don’t pursue you for copyright infringement, then they could also pursue you for deceptive/misleading trading (in the same way as implying your homebrand PC is made by IBM by just sticking a logo on the front).

Another potential risk situation is that called ‘deep-linking’. This is where you link to content deep within a site, not to imply ownership, but to circumvent other pages/details the owning site require its users to view beforehand. For example you could replicate a job posting from a site without reproducing some of the advertisement or owner information that they require to be displayed. If in doubt, always check with the author about what conditions, if any, they will accept your links.

Conclusions

This article provides an introduction to the issue of online copyright and provides an outline of the various facets of it that may impact your organisation as it goes online.

The key point to remember is that copyright law is built to enable and manage copying and the distribution of ideas, not to restrict it. Your aim therefore, should not necessarily be to prevent all copying, but to ensure that whatever copying is undertaken under terms you have dictated.

More Information

A quick internet search will highlight a series of useful sites on which the issue of copyright can be further investigated. Some suggested starting points:

Information Mapping™ in a nutshell

Information Mapping™ is a formal methodology for writing usable documents. It provides techniques to analyse, organise and present information to maximise its effectiveness.

The methodology was initially developed in the 1960s in the US. It is often described as research-based since all its techniques and principles are derived from research in human factors, cognitive science, etc.

The methodology is owned by Information Mapping Inc, based in Waltham Massachusetts. Partnerships are established worldwide to provide Information Mapping training and support in other countries.

methodology in a nutshell…

Information Mapping™ provides a simple three-stage process for creating documents: analyse, organise, present.

For analysis:

  • Information Mapping™ identifies all information as one of a limited series of types (eg process vs procedure vs principle, etc).
  • The key activity when analysing information is determining its type.

For organisation:

  • Information Mapping™ provides a series of principles on how to organise your information types.
  • Key to the principles is:
    • breaking information into discrete, bite-sized chunks (called blocks) on a single topic
    • limiting the number of blocks in a topic (called a map, hence the name of the methodology) to 7±2. This magical number is the theoretical limit of human short-term memory. Organising information around this limit helps users comprehend the content without feeling overwhelmed.

For presentation:

  • Information Mapping™ provides recommendations of the most effective formats for presenting each of the information types
  • Additionally it provides principles to help ensure the document is easy to scan/speed-read.

The methodology introduces two new organisational units for documents:

  • block – a single unit of information (= one information type) on a single subject. Can contain text, tables, images, etc. To be “blocked” it needs to be visually distinct from other blocks (the presentation standard is a line above/below) and with a label that describes its content.
  • map – a collection of blocks (7±2 ideally) on a single topic. It contains all the blocks on the given topic as well as an any introduction/conclusion block(s) required.

Above the map, mapped documents are organised into sections, then parts. Key at all levels is adherence to the 7±2 limit (eg a section should not have more than 9 maps, a part no more than 9 sections, etc).

what are the advantages?

There are three real advantages for organisations in adopting Information Mapping™:

  • improvement in document quality
  • upskilling/appraisal of new writers
  • standarisation of large writing teams

quality

A great deal of research has been conducted to quantify performance benefits when adopting IM. While your own figures may differ from the scientists there is no doubt that a well written IM document is easier use, particularly for reference (easy to scan, easy to find specific content, easy to understand that content when found).

upskilling

Information Mapping provides a framework that crystallises a great number of principles and techniques that good writers use anyway. It is therefore an excellent tool for:

  • raising the level of new writers
  • ensuring an acceptable rate of output for new users (no more writer’s block)
  • providing an assessment framework for helping good writers explain the issues with bad writing (without it getting too subjective/personal)

standardisation

Since the methodology is definitive in its principles, it is invaluable when trying to ensure a consistent and standard output across multiple writers. When well written, mapped content can easily be assigned/re-assigned between writers with everyone “understanding” exactly what each topic is to contain and how to provide it.

By adopting the methodology, organisations are also able to draw upon existing mapping trained writers to augment their in-house development teams. Eg if you need 5 manuals written, and only have resources for 2 of them you can outsource the others confident that the format/style will be consistent for all.

what are the disadvantages?

There are no real disadvantages, just two issues it is best to be aware of before committing to it.

  • paper-centric
  • presentation-obsessed

paper-centric

Traditionally (i.e. it predates the internet) Information Mapping™ is a paper-based approach. Now all of the techniques and principles are equally applicable online, but it does take some flexibility/creativity to make best use of the online format and adhere to the presentation guidelines.

To this end it is recommended you spend the time to review/define a formal mapping template for any online document before your writing team get too far into its development.

presentation-obsessed

Information Mapping Inc. say it all the time, and I agree with them: simply using the mapping template does not a mapped document make. The presentation is the tip of the iceberg (in workshops they used to say presentation was maybe 20% of the method’s power).

The recommended presentation is the optimum based on the research, but you are free to manipulate to better fit your own needs.

On most Information Mapping™ workshops, participants are provided a template and formatting tool (called Formatting Solutions) that facilitates development of IM-formatted documents. This is a series of MS Word templates/macros to speed up the production of IM documents. If skilled (or willing to pay) these templates can be customised for your own needs.

what are the alternatives?

A large number of training companies offer technical writing courses. And most of them will include principles similar to those in Information Mapping™. However IM probably rules the roost in terms of research-basis and consistency.

The only other method that probably came close to the rigour of Information Mapping™ was “Read-to-Do”. However we’ve been unable to find any recent references to this alternative, so perhaps it has fallen by the wayside.

how do I learn Information Mapping™?

You can only learn the method by attending a formal workshop organised by Information Mapping Inc or one of its partners. Depending on your location a series of workshops are available for different writing needs (eg writing memos vs writing technical handbooks).

All partners offer the workshops as public or in-house. In-house workshops are good if able to train your entire team, particularly if you can spend the time up-front to help customise the course content/templates (eg use your own materials during the exercises, etc).

how do I find out more?

The Information Mapping Inc website contains a lot of useful information and research on the methodology, including examples.

Alternatively contact your local partner (for Australasia it is TACTICS Consulting) who will be keen to provide any information you require.