The Learning Curve of Learning Curves

I admit to you freely that this is a little off the ResearchBuzz path, but this resource saved my bacon. And I figure bacon-saving (or tofu-saving, or chicken-saving, or whatever your protein of choice for saving) is a universal desire.

One of the many tasks in my Real Job is graphic designer. I’m competent at it, in the sharp-cornered, slightly awkward way of someone who has zero natural aptitude for a task but who studies and practices diligently in order to build skill.

My boss asked me to design a sales flyer. There wasn’t a lot of time to do it, so I quickly wrote up some copy (that I can do), thought about it for a few minutes, and then shoved it into the back of my mind so my subconscious could chew on it while I took care of more immediate tasks.

Later that evening my subconscious went bing! and I had a pretty good plan for a flyer.

For a while everything went according to plan. Got some graphic elements together, got a layout, fit in the copy. It looked pretty good. I was over half done with it, congratulating myself, when I realized I had made a big mistake:

I needed a curved text element.

In fact, I needed five of them.

I normally use GIMP when I’m designing, or if it’s not something really complicated I use PicMonkey. Curved text in GIMP is not something that comes easy to me. I knew it could be done, so I went and found some tutorials, then tried to follow along with my own flyer.

The results would have been great if I was designing a flyer for drunk Scrabble players. Alas, I was not.

At this point it was about 10pm. I complained on Facebook (as you do) and my friends suggested using Inkscape, but I did not have time to climb up that learning curve. So I went hunting for an alternative.

And I found it on GRSites, at http://www.grsites.com/generate/group/1/ .

That site is a logo designer. You can pick out a texture if you want one or a color if you don’t (and you can specify a hex color), font (you can even upload a font if you want), some special effects, etc. And you have a choice of curving the text up or down, with each orientation having seven different options.

This is ResearchBuzz with a slight up curve:

logo99105752

And this is ResearchBuzz with the greatest down curve, which is actually a circle:

logo83073510

Using this tool I was able to quickly generate the five curved text items I needed – I think it took me about ten minutes. And the flyer was finished.

Now, were they perfect? No. The kerning was a bit weird on one of them, and in another case the curve was a little odd relative to the graphic image I was using. But at the same time they looked fine, and certainly a hundred times better and a hundred times faster than I could have done myself.

GR Sites is not free – you can play with the tools all you like but to download/save items you’ll have to have a subscription. I was more than happy to pay $12 for a month’s access to all the tools on the site (there’s an icon maker, etc.) It saved me far more than that in time and all the hair I would have pulled out doing it myself! If the site is something you think you’d use a lot, yearly subscriptions start at $69 (and according to the pricing page, education discounts are offered.)

Because of all the folderol about sponsored posts and so on, I feel I must make the following disclaimer: GRSites is a product that solved my problem so I’m telling you about it. This isn’t a sponsored post. The GRSites people don’t know me from a hole in the ground. They don’t know I’m writing this post. I gave ‘em twelve bucks and I was happy to do it. Etc.

If you find yourself with graphic design tasks and you need a curved text element, but you’re not a hotshot designer, this is a great tool. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t free, but it’s very good, and will save you a tremendous amount of time.

Google, the IRS, Kickstarter Inspiration, Yahoo, More: Morning Buzz, March 18, 2012

The IRS has launched a new tool to find more information about tax-exempt organizations. “In addition, organizations that have automatically lost their tax exemptions may now be searched by EIN, name, city, state, ZIP Code, country, exemption type, and revocation posting date, rather than only by state.”

Local historians take note (and be inspired?): a local history digital atlas, in the works for over 20 years, is now a Kickstarter project.

Dell & YouTube are teaming up to stream four music festivals live. The festivals are: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits. I’m looking forward to seeing Bonnaroo, about which I have heard many good things.

A roundup of the features available at FBI.gov. I didn’t know about the text alerts.

The National Library of Ireland is seeking WWI memorabilia to create an online archive.

Nice job, U-Wisconsin — a map of independent gardening centers.

In case you missed it, here’s a good roundup story on James Whittaker’s post on why he left Google. A quote from him: “The Google I was passionate about was a technology company. The Google I left was an advertising company.” In my view, that is pretty much exactly what happened to AltaVista, only it looked more horrible because instead of stuffing text ads into search results, AV was stuffing banner ads.

Yuck: malware developers using Twitter as an infection vector.

Exploring cosmic history in your browser: ChronoZoom looks very cool.

Kara Swisher covers an apparent internal memo from Yahoo. As reported, most of it reads like standard pap corporate gives out when they can’t really say anything yet, but one line caught my eye: “LISTEN, UNDERSTAND AND PUT THE CUSTOMER FIRST.” Who, in the opinion of CEO Scott Thompson, is the customer? Is it the visitors who come and consume the advertising and the media, or is it the advertiser? If Yahoo goes with the latter, I’m afraid its lunch will be eaten because it seems to me that way means opposing Google on its own turf. But if it goes with the former, and rebuilds the amazing depth of talent that has always been Yahoo’s most unsung (and underused) asset, good things will happen. I don’t know. Maybe I’m stupid. But I feel that if you concentrate on building a quality, loyal audience by offering quality content accessible in a variety of ways (APIs, etc) and remembering that your audience is made up of PEOPLE (not ambulatory wallets) then the demand for advertising takes care of itself. Good morning, Internet…

Database of Radio Promotions and Competitions

Radio creatives, do I have a database for you. Radio Ideas Bank was launched recently with information on hundreds of what it describes as “contests, promotions, and stunts.” You can access it at http://www.radioideasbank.com/. It is a subscription service, but the folks behind Radio Ideas Bank were kind enough to give me access for a test drive.

There’s a list of quick search terms (business, retails, children, events, text, etc) in a list, but you can also do a full keyword search. I did a search for holiday and got over 30 results. Results included the name of the promotion and a brief description. The promotions had names that were intriguing, to say the least, and included “LUCKY TOOTHBRUSHES,” “PHANTOM FIVER FLINGER,” “ROCK, SHOP AND RELAX,” and “BRIEFCASE BONANZA”.

Now, the brief description tells you almost nothing. To download the full article, you need to use a credit. The article stays in your account for two weeks.

For Rock, Shop, and Relax the information in the article includes target market, objectives, overview, mechanics, and summary. The contest is described thoroughly along with some ways you can tease and promote it. Sometimes the contests are very specific — play x, y, and z, and award a, b, and c. Sometimes they’re more open-ended — invite people to do x, structure a contest possibly like y, and award z.

There’s no pricing information on the site — you have to use the contact page on the site to get in touch with one of the Radio Ideas Bank operators — but the searches I did showed a lot of content here. A pretty specific database, but useful for creatives or even event coordinators/marketing folks.

UK Election Leaflets

Thanks to reader APS for pointing me to The Straight Choice (http://www.thestraightchoice.org), a Web site containing almost 3500 (at this writing) election leaflets from UK general election candidates. The front of the site contains a list of latest leaflets found, the top parties, top constituencies, and campaign “not spots” (sorry, Aberdeen North.) You can also search the leaflets by postal code or browse them by party or category. There’s also a fairly substantial tag cloud of keywords.

I went looking at the parties, and found literally dozens — unfortunately some of the most interesting looking ones had no fliers associated with them. (The Dungeons Death and Taxes party?) I did find one flyer from the “Best of a Bad Bunch” party. The party pages for fliers contain links for getting an RSS feed or e-mail alert, and even embed codes if you want to feature a party’s leaflets on your own site. There’s a little data about where the leaflet came from and when it was uploaded to the site, and a few relevant categories listed.

The image quality of the leaflets themselves varied a lot — visitors are encouraged to scan or photograph leaflets and send ’em on in — but all the ones I looked at were available in a large enough size that they were easily readable. I know this wasn’t the intention, but if you wander through a site with almost 3500 flyer designs you can learn at least a little something about layout.

As long as you’re looking at UK election campaign materials, drop by http://www.electionchampion.com, which is attempting to document election billboards. There’s a leaderboard where you can get points for taking pictures of and sending in billboards. Billboards have some data about the associated campaign and a map of the area where it was found. At least one billboad I looked at seemed to have suffered a bit of annotation. Not as extensive as the leaflets site but there seems to be more elections data here.

Twitter Dips Its Toe in the Ad Water

Twitter announced this morning the launch of “Promoted Tweets” because it’s nice for a company to make revenue. Promoted Tweets are described in the blog post like this: “You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages…. Promoted Tweets will be clearly labeled as ‘promoted’ when an advertiser is paying… Only one Promoted Tweet will be displayed on the search results page.”

The site also notes that all Promoted Tweets will be “organic,” that is, they will first exist as regular Tweets. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal; all a company would have to do is tweet something, then promote it.

The Twitter announcement promised “Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar—they must resonate with users. That means if users don’t interact with a Promoted Tweet to allow us to know that the Promoted Tweet is resonating with them, such as replying to it, favoriting it, or Retweeting it, the Promoted Tweet will disappear.” When I read this I immediately thought, “Doesn’t Google down-position ads that have an extremely low CTR?” It sounded like the same sentiment, dressed up a bit.

These Promoted Tweets will start appearing on the search results page, though I ran a bunch of searches for search terms I thought might be relevant to Twitter’s launch partners (Sony Pictures, Bravo, Red Bull, Starbucks, etc) and didn’t have any luck.

I trust that Twitter will delineate a Promoted Tweet clearly from a regular tweet, and I like the idea of this kind of thing much better than a more heavily-sponsored structure like yesterday’s announced TweetUp (though Bill Gross will always hold a special place in my heart for the GoTo.com suit against Disney — which was settled in favor of GoTo, by the way.)

But I have lots of questions, mostly about the back end. How does the bidding work? Will the advertising be just keyword or also location specific (if it’s location specific I think that’s potentially much better for the advertiser AND the ad viewer.) How often will the ads change? What’s being tracked? How will Twitter handle trademark issues or tweets that are clearly spam? (Or worse, deceptive spam that gets enough clickthroughs to stay in the ad stream?) Will the ads show up in RSS feeds of results or just on the Web site?

Evan Williams and Dick Costolo will be discussing this further at Chirp, so I may do a followup. I’ll also grab a screenshot as soon as one of these ads turns up in a search.