July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have been a professional researcher and information wrangler since 1994, so I know a thing or two about finding information. However, there is no doubt that search has changed, and search engines have redesigned their functionality and user interface a lot over the years. I think it’s fair to say that search has significantly evolved since 1994.
Frankly, it’s hard to keep up.
So, when Google announced it Power Search class, I signed up without hesitation. As I write this, I am half way through the course, and even this well-seasoned researcher is not disappointed. I have learned a thing or two that will sharpen my search skills.
I’m smug enough to say that I knew most of the class offers, but what is really nice about this class is Daniel Russel’s teaching style. He reveals the intuition behind the design of the search tools, and he challenges the student to think critically about the search. The tools will help you, but your instincts and ability to read and further filter your search results will truly help you to focus in on the results that you’re looking for. The genius of Google’s design is that it is, at least by my estimation, very intuitive.
In Lesson 2 you are challenged to think more deeply about your search and the terms you use to isolate precisely what you’re looking for, as well as to think critically about your results and how the links might lead you through a “six degrees of separation” kind of process to the unexpected, or seemingly unconnected, like six links from the Mona Lisa to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a skill that researchers intuitively acquire with experience, and I think it’s particularly valuable for this concept to come across in these lessons.
The Google Power Search online class is a good investment of time for novice and seasoned researchers alike. I say this having only completed half of the class so far, and I will write another post about the entire class when I have done the whole thing.
July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
What Is Good Search Practice?
I have found myself saying to people more and more how Google-centric I am. It is no secret that I am an information professional, hound, aficionado, and addict, among other things. I love information and the tools and processes associated with managing it. Google happens to make some of the best. And they’re free! Sort of, but that’s a topic for another post.
To justify my Google-centricity, I look to numerous things that I like about the products and the company. It doesn’t hurt that, in honor of Pride Month, Google launched the “Legalise Love” Conference at Google London, partnering with organizations to identify ways to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world…but I digress.
Basically, it comes down to this: Google tools make it easy for me to manage most (but certainly not all) of my personal information. Do I worry about privacy? Like everyone else, yes, I feel some anxiety about all of the information I keep online, and certainly I am anxious about keeping all of my eggs in my Google basket, so to speak. But convenience and good design trumps all of that.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a healthy suspicion that they are trying to sell me stuff, and truly, I don’t have a deep understanding about what they can do with the data they are collecting about my online activity. But I have drunk the Google Kool-Aid, for better or worse (and mostly, I like to think, better).
I used to observe a cardinal rule that when you use one search engine, you should use one or two more that may garner different results. At one time, anyway, it was considered best practice in research. However, I now admit that I don’t often use any other search engine besides Google out of habit more than conscious decision. Google has become so ubiquitous, in popular parlance it has become synonymous with “research”. People use the word “Google” as a verb when they talk about looking something up.
In truth, it comes down to the bottom line of time. It takes significant time to take the extra step of doing an additional search with another tool. And frankly, I find that I don’t get any more interesting results when I use another search engine. Back in the day, that problem was resolved by using Dog Pile, which aggregated results from different search engines. That became problematic when I realized that the different engines interacted in different ways with the search string, so I stopped using it.
Occasionally I look to other search engines like Blekko or Duck Duck Go. I harbor a prejudice against Bing, but I must admit that their latest marketing campaign and model sounds pretty smart. I haven’t used it yet because it’s not applicable for the professional research that I do, but the move to use social media to help you prioritize your results seems like an effective way to search. Jury is still out on that one, however.
So, I’m concluding this post with questions for my readers:
- Do you still believe it’s good practice to use multiple search engines when you search?
- If so, do you practice this habit, and what search engines do you regularly use?
March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
This week I acquired a new business intelligence tool, and I am geeking out! This tool is going to be a game-changer for how we perform data analysis, and it will also allow us to build dashboards to show activity in our prospect and donor pool in a whole new way. I’m super excited.
As I begin to dip my toes into the world of data visualization, I am seeking and finding some very interesting resources to help guide me through the process and give me ideas. Here is my attempt to collect them.
Visua.ly: Tools and guidelines for creating infographics and data visualizations (which are not the same thing). They even took a stab at drafting a Code of Ethics for Dave Visualization Professionals. Nice.
Storytelling With Data: to help rid the world of ineffective graphs, one exploding, 3D pie chart at a time
Spreadsheet Analytics: Resources and guidelines for spreadsheet analysis
Visual Literacy: e-learning tutorials for data visualization.
Information Is Beautiful: A blog by David McCandless, a journalist and information designer based in London.
The History of Visual Communication: An interesting perspective of human beings teaching and learning through visualization.
I have been collecting resources for data visualization for a while, and you can access them on my Pinboard page. If you know of others, please share them!
August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
The mantra for taking the long view on fundraising
This ongoing recession is putting many into crisis and panic mode, including nonprofits. The scarcity mentality is inspiring some organizations to contract instead of expand. Fundraisers are have to work harder to make their goals, and some organizations are being forced to make difficult choices.
I have always taken the long view on fundraising; the work you do today may not result in a major gift tomorrow, but perhaps next year. It’s an exercise in patience and persistence.
I read a blog post recently from the ML Wagner Group that has some sage advice for small nonprofit organizations in terms of setting up fundraising infrastructure. What I like about this piece is the emphasis on information management, whether it is about communication, establishing clear policy, or relationship management. Investing in your information management systems may sound expensive at the outset, especially to organizations with limited means. But an organization’s information is probably one of it’s most important assets. Investing in the infrastructure to manage it wisely is critical for your long-term fundraising success.
Information systems that work well will support the relationships with your constituents and donors and ensure their continued engagement and support. By taking the long view of fundraising and embracing the mantra of Patience and Persistence, organizations can look at this economic downturn as an opportunity to learn from this situation. Organizations can take the opportunity to build their institutional memory strategically so when the next economic downturn happens they will have loyal and engaged constituents there to help see them through tough times.
May 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
This week, the Wall Street Journal published a blog post about prospect research, asking the question “is your favorite charity spying on you?” A very unflattering and biased way to introduce the topic and the debate. I cut my professional teeth in non-profit fundraising as a prospect researcher, and it is a job that I came to love, and I was proud to work for organizations that make the world a better place. Every once in a while, an article like this appears in the press, and I feel the need to speak up and defend not only a noble profession, but one that is vital to successful philanthropic fundraising.
Many colleagues have already spoken up about this article, pointing out that we have a well-established code of ethics and a Donor Bill of Rights. Also, the same resources we use in our day-to-day work are employed by the for-profit industry for the same purposes, and, as someone aptly pointed out, by journalists as they research their stories. Why is the Wall Street Journal picking on charitable organizations, and not private industry who are less likely to adhere to any ethical standards?
Information is an asset, and any charitable organization would be wise to make investments to enhance, manage, and protect that asset. Organizations who have a long-term goal of creating institutional memory in order to foster good relationships with their donors will be more likely to thrive. I have worked for organizations whose investment in their information assets have maintained successful philanthropic relationships with families and corporate donors for generations. Prospect research ensures better fundraising success and better donor stewardship.
Part of the job of a prospect researcher is to identify new potential donors. Time and again we hear that one of the main reasons people don’t give philanthropically is because they aren’t asked. We identify opportunities, encouraging philanthropy by matching interests to the programs we support.
When I started out in this business, I remember a major gifts officer telling me that savvy philanthropists expect us to do our homework. They expect us to keep good records and know something about their interests. They don’t want to be solicited beyond their capacity and be embarrassed, and for less than their capacity and be insulted. Nor do they want to have us waste their time with solicitations for causes that don’t interest them.
I am proud to be a prospect researcher. I have never met a researcher who didn’t love his/her job. It’s interesting work; we’re always learning new methods of research, analysis, and information management, not to mention the fact that we learn about fascinating and inspiring philanthropists. I was saddened to see the Wall Street Journal and Anne Kadet being so quick to judge without even talking to someone in the profession.
May 10, 2010 § Leave a comment
A few weeks ago, I attended the Women in the Forefront luncheon hosted by the Chicago Network, an organization that advocates for women in business leadership in Chicago. The keynote speaker was Ann S. Moore, the Chairman and CEO of Time, Inc.
Moore shared many wise points and witticisms in her speech, like the connection between a weak economy and searches for tuna casserole on the Internet, the importance of dinner time with family, and advised us all to get a compass in place of the clock. She lifted her glass to economic recovery, more women leaders, less tuna casserole, and more sunshine and serendipity.
She also shared her fear about the precarious state of America’s newspapers. She reminded us that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is Freedom of the Press, and that democracy is possible only when citizens have access to information. While the Internet is a wonderful source of information, she warned that too much unfiltered information is overwhelming.
She criticized the trend of citizen journalism, saying that the sacrifices and risks that professional journalists make is undervalued. They go to war-torn countries and put themselves in danger to provide regular citizens with a complete story, while, Moore argues, most citizen journalists plagiarize their work. This is a rather harsh generalization, and while I do think that citizen journalism has a place, I couldn’t agree more that we need to protect the profession of journalism and ensure that it continues to be a viable career choice. We need to support the brave men and women on the front lines of getting first-hand accounts of world events.
About serendipity, Moore worries about the younger generations will not have the experience of reading the newspaper and stumbling randomly across stories and information. She asked us “how do you look for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for?”
This made me think of young people I have worked with in recent years who refused to read the hard copy version of their reading assignments. They complained that that got ink on their fingers! I would always counsel them that they will miss important details that they didn’t know they were looking for. Moore describes reading a hard copy newspaper as a serendipitous process, which I think very apt.
I’m always eager to learn about new technology. While I identify as an early adopter, I would qualify that by saying that I am also conservative about it. I will only actively adopt technology if I think it is a useful tool and will seamlessly fit into my already incredibly full information consumption routine.
Technology is convenient, and I admit, like those young researchers, I have become lazy in how I rely on technology to push information to me. Serendipity to me these days is reading my Twitter and RSS feeds, or listening to my podcasts. I lament that I am no longer in the habit of reading a morning news paper. I think I might go old-school, and be a minority on the bus in the morning, reading my paper with ink-stained fingers.