5 Useful Firefox Add-ons for Web Producers

10 Oct

Over on Kontain, Future Interactive’s Executive Producer Stephen Martin posted an excellent piece on what tools a producer at FI would use in their daily role.

This got me thinking, what tools I use on a daily basis, particularly given I currently work in a very restrictive corporate environment? While I have access to the normal Office suite of applications, the range of utility applications I can install is pretty much nil.

As result, Firefox has become my faithful workhorse. It allows me to install add-ons to provide browser based tools that let me complete key tasks my role calls of me, and with 1000’s of add-ons there’s something for every job.

Fireshot
Fireshot is an extremely good screen grab add-on that allows the capture of whole web pages. You can then annotate, edit and save all your screenshots quickly and efficiently right in the browser.

Pencil
Wireframing is part and parcel of the producers role. Pencil is an amazingly useful add-on that allows you to create and edit wireframes directly in the browser. Released for free under the GPL, this is one extension you should not be without.

SEO Quake
When dabbling in the dark art that is SEO, you can’t go past the SEO Quake add-on. This add-on provides an insane amount of information relating to each page you view. It’s highly recommended you RTFM as the plugin options are extensive.

Firebug
While you may not always do a lot of coding as a producer, it is necessary at times to peek under the hood to understand what’s going on. Firebug is simply THE best tool to do this.

ColorZilla
Packed full of goodies such as a colour picker, eyedropper, page zoom, pallate analyzer all with Firebug integration; when colour matters ColorZilla is the tool to use.

So there you have five very useful extensions for Firefox that help in the day to day role of the producer. Feel free to share below, any add-ons you find useful in your role.

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The Producer as the Project Manager

6 Oct

Recently I was outlining the role of a Online Producer it was asked of me:

“Isn’t that just what a Project Manager does?”

It’s a common misconception thrown around frequently, that is the idea that a producer is just another name for a Project Manager. So the question begs, why bother with producers?

From my experience, the producer and the Project Manager roles are, in some aspects, not too dissimilar. Though one thing seems to constantly present itself in defining the differences between the two skill sets is the creative aspect of a producer.

In a great post on his Digital River Guides blog, Bryan Daniels sums this concept up nicely;

“…a Digital Producer may cross over into doing project management work but seldom, if ever, does a Project Manager cross over into driving and influencing strategic and creative work”.

The point of difference that Daniels is making, and backed up by Tony Zeoli’s post to the Web Producers list, revolves around the producer as a strategic creative thinker, a link between creative, technical and the client while the Project Manager focuses on things such as timelines, budgets and resource allocation.

To help visualise this difference a better, I have taken direction from Sarah Lantry’s post on econsultancy.com and further defined some explicit skills and tasks between the two jobs and the roles they play.

The Project Manager
Often tertiary educated in Logistics or Project Management with qualifications in various Project Management methodologies. Project Managers are fanatical organisers, look at a project as a whole including impacts outside of the digital sphere with an awareness of risk management, project progress and commercial requirements.

The Online Producer
Often tertiary educated, although in a varying range of areas, the producers primary focus is the digital landscape. Producers mostly come from creative or technical backgrounds with strong functional understanding of the development process. Producers help define a clients vision and develop a digital strategy. In many cases the producer is the common thread between development stages of project.

Who does what and when?

The scope of a project will often determine what role the producer and  the Project Manager will play in a project. For larger scale projects where there are impacts with systems or departments outside of the digital space, the producer may play second fiddle to the Project Manager, often acting as the online Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the project while co-ordinating the digital aspects for the Project Manager.

In smaller projects the producer may take on the end-to-end management of the project, taking on many project management tasks including budgeting, resource allocation, dealing with stakeholders an managing the production work flow.

So who you gonna call?

While the above scenarios and tasks are not hard and fast rules, hopefully they help to provide some insight into how the role of the producer fits into a project and the production cycle. And hopefully they will help you understand when best to call on a producers particular set of skills.

Life, the Universe and Websites

30 Sep

Ever had one of those moments in life where you think “what have I actully done up until now?” You know when a sense of panic kicks in as you begin to go through the mental check list of things to do before I turn 30 and realise that you missed half the list and you are about to turn 40.

Before hurling myself down the path towards becoming a web professional, I had a very similar experience. While it wasn’t turning 40, it was just before a milestone birthday. Waking up one morning I came to the realisation, I hated the job I was in. Sure we all have these moments and most of the time we brush them aside and get back to the grind. For me though this morning was different.

By  the time I finally got out of bed I had a plan of attack. Go back to study and start building on skills and experiences I have developed over the last few years and, start looking for work in the area I wanted to move into: web development.

As luck would have it, not one month into my new life plan, a role in online at my then employer materialised giving me the opportunity to move into the online space immediately. Can you believe it? From this point on my eyes and mind were opened as I was exposed to new concepts, ideas, process and skills. I began to soak up all the information I could both formally and informally. I drew on my own previous experiences and extrapolated that to my current role and slowly I started to understand what it really took to build a website.

Building a website isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do. In fact, with a little patience and persistence anybody can learn HTML and CSS and pull together a few pages of content. Building a great website though, that takes time and team of people coming together with their own unique skills and ideas.

This is something I have discovered along my journey thus far, and the further along I travel, the more I want to share about what I have learned, specifically what I have learned about being a producer. For me now, writing about building websites and the role of the Online Producer allows me to express my thoughts and ideas, encouraging me to explore what I do, look at it in different ways and learn new things.

So this is my career path now, fortunately it’s something I really enjoy and although I am still cutting my teeth, it’s something I have found I am pretty good at. Of course there is still lots to learn and what better way to learn than by sharing my thoughts and opening up a dialogue with those who feel the same way as me.

I getz da mad skillz

28 Sep

Trying to tie down one particular skill set an Online Producer should be focused on is, at the best of times, difficult.

Often described as a “Jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none“, the producer needs to be across; development, design, usability, content, marketing and more, and more often than not, all at the same time.

This requirement for breadth of knowledge can lead to producers having broad but shallow pools of knowledge. Although this is not a failure as a producer,  Josh Hatch, Interactive Director at USA Today points out in the video below, there are ways to offset the limits in a producers skill set.

While Hatch is coming more from the content creator definition of producing, the concept sill stands. Build your knowledge across a wide range of areas, work on plugging your gaps and most importantly, add some depth to at least one area of expertise.

While taking this approach won’t solve all problems, it is a right step forward to helping the producer better manage projects and deliver the end results.

Content vs Production

21 Sep

There is a common misconception with the job title of Online Producer, that is  many people see the idea of the Online Producer as the creator of the content. In fact, if you look at Wikipedia’s definition for an Online Producer, you will see a lot of talk about web editors, content creation, journalism and the like. While I don’t deny the Online Producer is indeed closely linked to a sites  content, the role of Online Producer is not so much around the creation of content, or even the management of content.

But don’t producers make stuff?

Some of the confusion probably stems from the actual word producer. When most people think of the word producer, they can jump one of two ways: That of creator of content or television/film producer.Personally I prefer the latter of the two.

When attempting to explain the producer part of my title to friends, family or random people on the street, I align the role to that of a television/film producer; organising, coordinating, budgeting, “making sure stuff gets done”. Richard Rutter extends this analogy well on his about page at Clagnut.com, further positioning the Online Producer as a director of sorts for a website.

So now your a Online Director?

Just as in Rutter’s example, the Online Producer producer should have an understanding of the content and how this content is best presented to the user. An excellent Online Producer will have an innate understanding the content and how it works on the page for the user. So really it’s not about content vs production as a producer, it’s about content as part of the production which is something that is all too often forgotten when building websites.

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