MMP7: 10 Years In The Hole: A Possibly Cautionary Tale About Being A Higher Ed Web Geek

Dylan Wilbanks 
Web Producer, University of Washington School of Public Health


The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at


Speaker: And I'm going to hand the mic over to Dylan Wilbanks this morning from the University of Washington. He is going to give us the benefit of some cautionary tales that he has collected over his '10 Years in the Hole: Confessions of a Web Geek'. So, Dylan, take it away.

Dylan Wilbanks: Thank you. Can you all hear me?

So first off, I want to apologize in advance because I felt like after reading through what I had promised, that I had way over-promised, and I think I'm having an Obama effect. That is, everyone is reading into this talk what they want to read into and no matter what I do, I'm going to disappoint everyone.

Audience 1: You're already disappointing.

Dylan Wilbanks: Awesome.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: So I just want to--watch for the 20-minute point. Glenn Beck should walk in telling us how he loves higher ed and he's afraid for it.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: So how many Next Gen fans we have here? Next Gen? Yeah. Right.

 01:03

OK. Let's see how really geeky you are. How many all remember an episode called "Cause and Effect"? Yeah! You don't.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: OK. So none of us remember "Cause and Effect". That's fine. So let me explain it to you as quickly as I possibly can.

Basically, the Enterprise gets stuck in what's called a 'temporal causal loop', which is a completely made-up term for Groundhog Day. Every time, every however many whatever, a ship appears out of nowhere, slams into them, knocks them back in time, and they start over again. And this loop has been continuing for quite a while.

Oh, dear. That slide is just way too dark. Now there we go.

So after going through this for a while, they finally begin to realize what's going on. And Data says at one point, "You know, I bet we can break this loop. There's a way I might be able to pass a piece of data back to myself through the loop, and if I can figure it out in the next stage of the loop, then maybe we can break this thing." Everyone is like, "OK, that's a great idea. We're all going to go with it."

 02:07

So a ship appears out of nowhere, this bald-headed Picard in front going, "I need options here." And Data goes, "OK, tractor beam." And beautiful, sexy, bearded Riker, the smart one, he says, "Let's blow out the back of the cargo bay." And Picard goes, "Tractor beam." So Data hits the button, the tractor beam hits it, ship still hits the other ship, explodes. At that moment, Data sends the data back in time. Next loop starts.

At that moment, Data shows the data begins to notice something really strange: the number 3 is appearing everywhere, continually, and it's this weird synchronicity, until they get to the point where the other ship is about to hit them. And again, there's Picard sitting in the back, beautiful bald head, saying, "I need options." And Data says, "Oh, tractor beam." And beautiful, sexy, bearded and, of course, the smartest one on the entire show Will T. Riker says, "Let's blow out the back of the cargo bay."

 03:00

And so Picard says, "OK, let's do the tractor beam." At which point, Data is about to hit the button--and you can't even see this at all. Well, shoot.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: So on the collars of all the people in Next Generation are pips, and they designate--it's like stars on your lapels--I mean, on your--never mind, I don't need that term anymore. There are three of them. There's three on Riker's.

And he looks over, and it hits him: the reason why the number 3 is showing up is because he's telling himself, 'Riker's option was the correct option.' So he quickly reaches over and instead whacks the button to blow out the back of the cargo bay. The ship slides to side. The loop is broken. Everything is good. And everyone's jaws just hit the floor. It's like, "How the hell did you figure that out?" He's like, "Well, I just knew. That was the best option."

So think about that whole story, because the next question I have for you is, if you could go back in time, back to when this all started, and you had the ability--

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: --to do exactly what Data did to yourself, what would be the message you would send back to yourself on your first day in higher ed?

 04:15

Audience 1: Run!

Audience 2: Yeah.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: That's mine, too. Actually, mine is, "You know, Dick Striveman has health insurance. It's the local burger joint, so..."

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: So, yeah. Ten years in the hole. Yeah. It really feels like that at times, doesn't it? I mean, we just feel really just sort of sucked in, stuck in sewer pipes.

So let me tell you a little bit about myself in 60 seconds. I jumped in during the dot-com boom in Seattle. A friend of mine called me up and said, "Oh, I have an accounting site. I really need people who know how to do HTML." And I said, "OK." So I show up. I'm there for a year. I go through a hellish launch cycle.

 05:02

And then at the end of it I think to myself, 'I don't want to do this anymore. I'm getting out.' At which point a friend of mine calls and says, "Hey, we did a contract for that. We want to pick you up," and I said, "Sure." So I went and worked for an internalization and localization firm, which was really cool except for the fact that it turned out it was a Japanese tax shelter, and the Japanese government had decided to close it that January.

So all of a sudden I was laid off for six months. Do you all remember when six months was a long time to be laid off? Those were the days.

So in the middle of 2001, I found myself with a job again at public health. I was the web person. We had a database guy and we had a hardware guy. There were three of us. It's a school of 900 graduate students, about 200 faculty inside of a 37,000-student, 29,000-staff university. So a little bitty pond in the middle of a giant ocean.

 06:07

And it's been an interesting ride. I really didn't intend to stay for 10 years. I really thought by now I'd be moving on. But at this point in time I figured, 'I'm almost on 10, anyway.' I'm actually nine years and four and a half months, so actually I lied about the 10 years, too, so...

Audience 1: You did?

Dylan Wilbanks: Yeah, I did. Where's Glenn Beck when you need him?

At this point, I'm in it for the attaché case, right? I mean... Oh, come on. Ah! My Mac hates me. There it is. Look at this thing. I mean, the best thing about it is it's embroidered.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: It's not ironed on. I mean, isn't that a sign of quality? It's a sign of saying that, "You've been here for 10 years! Awesome!" Anyway.

So I thought about the last 10 years, and I promised 10 lessons, so I'm going to get to 10 lessons, but it makes more sense to tell 10 stories because I think stories are the best way to kind of convey the agony and ecstasy, but mostly agony, of the last 10 years.

 07:19

And so I'm going to blow through them incredibly fast. And I apologize if I start talking like that guy in those old FedEx commercials. If I do, just throw something at me.

Also I'll mention that I think I so over-promised that I'm going to probably miss a couple of things. If I miss any of those things, grab me at the end, hold me down, and demand the information from me and I will tell you. I talk really easily. I'd be the worst spy on the planet.

All right. So our first lesson comes back to the idea of the mission statement. And that mission to me is more important in statement. I wanted to put the University of Washington's mission statement up, but unfortunately it was so long that the font would have been like this. It's 300-and-something words long. How do you have a mission statement that long?

 08:02

So this actually is pulled from some branding work that we did a couple of years ago as a university from this big Chicago firm. And it's just a sort of weird marketing talk that just doesn't make any sense, spirit of discovery. It's really kind of mealy-mouthed weirdness about it, all right? I see this a lot where people don't really... There's just nothing really to grab on to. I mean it isn't a mission statement. This is a brand statement. But, anyway.

On the other hand, we've got Conan the Barbarian, right? All right? Do we all know what is best in life? Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a mission statement.

[Laughter]

 09:00

Dylan Wilbanks: OK? Not only is it a mission statement, it's a three-part mission statement, and it states very clearly what we're out to do.

Now, I say this because not only do I feel like, as universities, we run into this all the time, especially because we have these people who love to overwrite everything. God, why do we have a 350-word statement as a university? I went into it myself. I mean, I came in as a generalist, I'm stuck as a generalist.

This is Willie Bloomquist, who is the Mariners' utility infielder. He plays for the Reds now, but here he's with the Royals. He played seven positions, and as we used to say in Seattle, "None of them good."

But I think at times I'm kind of in that position. I'm not particularly good at anything I do. I mean 'great'. I can get by most of the time but end up playing so many different positions this it's kind of a question, too, what exactly my role is.

 10:00

So I end up with being in design and development and IA and UX and accessibility. I take pictures, I do the social media, I cook, clean, bottle-wash, I'm the boss, I'm the TV star. You can pick whatever else you want to say I am. I fix the copier.

So I went to an interview a couple of years ago with a local consultancy. And the interview went a bit like this. They asked me, "So what do you do?" And so I spent the next 10 minutes walking through design development, IA, helping other schools try to work out what they're trying to do, get pulled in on these meetings, all these committees and so on, and after about 10 minutes I stopped, and it's really silent. And they look at me and they say to me, "So what do you do?"

And I realized that, at that point, I really didn't know. I mean, I knew what I did, but what they were looking for was a Conan statement. They were looking for me to say I was out to crush my enemies and so they could go, "Oh, you're perfect for poleaxe." And I could go, "OK." 

 11:16

So lesson here for me was try your best. As individuals and as a university, we've got to avoid this identity crisis. Especially those of us in huge universities, we already have an identity crisis.

My school has five departments, none of which really have anything in common. Biostatistics is all stats, Environmental Health is all toxicology and testing. They're so completely in a different realm of the world, but we're all in the same thing. So it creates already this sort of identity crises.

And then here I am trying to help them with their identity crisis and working out my own. So for the safety of yourself, just try to get out of those sorts of things.

So second lesson--and I kind of push this all the way up to the front, and I kind of wonder if I should have ended with it, but you have to love your user side yourself. I mean, seriously.

 12:09

I'm known on campus as a really big accessibility nut, and I really believe that accessibility is a human right and that we should do everything we can to make sure the Web is built in a way that allows people with disabilities to use it and eliminate those barriers.

Yeah. There we go.

Now, of course, on campus this kind of gets me seen as, you know, it's my own personal windmill. But the thing is, I don't think windmills are necessarily bad. I think windmills can really be good as long as you're crazy and you're relentless about making the Web better.

And I would say to you that's probably the thing you need to do. No matter what realm of the Web you are in, you have to be crazy and you have to be relentless. It's the only way really to get through this mess.

Plus if you're really crazy about making the Web better, you're also going to be crazy about making the world better, because it all interconnects. Accessibility on the Web ties in with the fundamental human rights of people with disabilities. And that extends out to the fundamental rights of anyone who uses the Web.

 13:18

I really have a story for this, but I actually pulled this out of--it was almost a throwaway line in this article. The CEO of Wesabe wrote about how they failed and how Mint won. "Focus on what really matters. Make users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and help them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there, you'll win."

Fundamentally, as universities, as we move through these times when we're losing more and more money, we have to think of our students as customers, as users. If we think like this, then we'll win.

 14:01

But that means you have to treat your users with the respect and dignity that you would want to demand of yourself, even though the rest of the organization may completely disagree with you.

So the lesson here for you and for me is to fight for them. It's not just accessibility. It's usability. It's user experience. It's IA. It's marketing. I mean, heck. Whatever you want to say you're into the Web, this is what's fundamental to me.

Third lesson. Let's talk about our audience. Ooh, there's an audience! Beautiful.

So I sat down earlier this year and I took apart our web stats, and I tried to figure out what our audience kind of looked like. And this is fairly rough. I was taking a look at who did what and what did what, and it's hard to really track, but I kind of work it out in the end.

About 70% of our traffic seemed to be prospective students. And the rest were some jumble of internal and alumni and the Google noise of people who come in and bounce really quickly out of there because I guess they were looking for Viagra or something.

 15:06

So I look at this and I think to myself, 'Well, prospective students are the most important group, and therefore the first group I must respect if I'm going to build a website, design a website, work through the content strategy on it, is to work first for prospective students.'

By comparison, let's look at a research professor. OK. In his mind, 80% of the Web, and this is actually at minimum. Reality is about 155% of the Web needs to be about their personal grant-funded research project. The remainder of the Web is some combination of faculty and maybe some dancing dogs. I'm not really sure.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: What happens, though--and I've seen this. You see this. "Why isn't my research project on the homepage?"

[Laughter]

[Applause]

Dylan Wilbanks: All right. Now multiply it by 50. And you get...this. This is a true story, and I am so happy I wasn't directly involved with this.

 16:11

We had a department that got stuck in a six-year redesign project. Six years. The reason why they were stuck in a six-year redesign project is because the faculty council had control over it, and every single faculty member wanted their personal research project, all their stuff, on the homepage. And of course you have 50 faculty members; there's no way you can fit it all on the homepage.

It got to the point where I kept getting called by the other department to come down and help them interview new web people because they kept quitting.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: And the thing was they were fantastic web people. It's just like they'd come in and six months later they're over at Microsoft. I'm like, "Yeah. They're trying to run, aren't they?" And they're like, "Yeah."

So finally what happened was they hired a new administrator in the school, and the first thing the administration say is, "We need a new website," and immediately yanked the control of the entire website away from the faculty council and said, "Oh, you want it? Come claim it."

 17:14

Six months later, they had a new website. And they just finished a new redesign last year.

So what's the lesson in all this I take away? Well, find and befriend the people who can knock some freaking sense in out-of-control processes.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: I mean it. Send them flowers, send them candy, give them big hugs, whatever it takes. But if you can find them, figure out ways to inject them into these things and just tell them to go kick some butt.

Four. You shall know the truth and you shall back it up with hard data. Oh, this one's always fun.

Google Analytics. Tony Dunn yesterday said that Google Analytics proves to you what you already know. And he's absolutely right.

 18:07

The best thing about Google Analytics is I could go and go, "Oh, hey, prospective students seem to be really popular on our site." But at the same time, it actually gives you a measure, a metric where you can go, "Hey, this says prospective students are the most important thing on our site." And they go, "Oh. That's a number. That means we must respect the number. So you must be right."

On the other hand, I do more than that. I actually directly yank through the feeds, and this actually came up a podcast for me. We do podcasts in the school. We primarily record faculty lectures. And I had a faculty member who basically said the podcast was the stupidest thing ever, he did not want his thing recorded, and the research team came to me and said, "I don't understand the point of these things." So I went in and I grabbed the stats.

 19:01

And it turned out that our little school of 900 students, 200 faculty, 6,000 alumni--really tiny in the overall scheme of things at the university--had 20,000 podcast downloads last year. And I'm talking about 45- to 60-minute drops of information.

And the craziest thing of all was that we had one faculty lecture that the research team freaked out about because nobody showed up, because apparently it was poorly promoted, it was scheduled against another lecture. It was a really bad thing. And the research team really berated a few people for being so poor in promotion.

Take one guess what the most downloaded podcast was. Yeah. And the amazing thing was not only was it the most downloaded one, we had 2,000 downloads of it. That room only seats 150.

So I took those two facts back--20,000 downloads, 2,000 downloads that one lecture--dropped them into the thing, and said, "What do you think?" I got handed 500 bucks to buy more equipment. 

 20:09

So the lesson here is, yes, data can turn arguments. But the trick was, I found the two best statistics I could, the ones that prove my point. Use it as a scalpel. Don't use this as a sledgehammer. Because you know what happens when you put too many numbers in front of a faculty member? Even if they're stats people, they're going to freeze out and they're going to go, "Umm." It's not going to be pretty.

And we're almost halfway home. So let's actually talk about faculty, shall we? Oh, faculty.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: That guy on the left is asleep, isn't he? I didn't say anything.

Anyone here faculty? Anyone want to admit they're faculty? Right.

Audience 3: Yeah!

Dylan Wilbanks: You guys?

[Laughter]

 21:00

Dylan Wilbanks: Stand up. Stand up. Stand up, all three of you. You are not the problem.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: OK?

[Applause]

Dylan Wilbanks: I got a lot of flack last year at South by Southwest for berating faculty. I had one of those back channel moments except it was in the front row right in front of me, and there were a lot of older faculty going, "We're here! Why are you being so grumpy?"

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: You're not the problem. You guys are here. You guys care. You want to make differences. The problem I run into, and admittedly, I'm going to say this, too, it's not all faculty. I run into this too with administrators, with staff of anyone else. It looks a bit like this.

Oh, these slides are too dark. But, anyway.

So Seattle back in the early 1900s had a thing about tearing down hills and flattening them. So this was Denny Hill. And you can't see it very well, unfortunately. What they did over a systematic period of years is they took hoses, they washed down the hill, they ran it over, they made an island, and slowly lowered this hill down.

 22:10

But as they went, well, buildings like this ended up still staying up high because they had to actually move the building down. And I look at this and I feel in some ways, this is what I do for the lot of faculty and staff. They're up in that building, they haven't yet understood the street grade is way down there now.

Things are changing, and they don't want them to change. So you end up with a building like that.

And the struggle I always ran into, and this really was in the first five, six years in my job, was never being able to get away from this sort of pain of always having to have the same argument over and over again about how things were changing and we should do different things.

So what I'm about to tell you is secret and horrible, but I want to tell you anyway. This is how I solved my problem: I got a Skunk Works. So everyone know what a Skunk Works is? Does anyone know what a Skunk Works is?

 23:07

Audience 4: Of course.

Dylan Wilbanks: Right. Of course you do. Everyone knows what a Skunk Works is. So the Skunk Words was Lockheed's engineering division in the 1960s that would build a lot of the spy planes like this. This is an SR-71. It was the fastest production airplane ever built, Mach 3.5. Could outrun any Soviet missile. Brilliant, beautiful. It's ugly as hell. It's made out of titanium.

But they had the authority at Lockheed, these engineers, to build what they needed to do without any sort of compunction of whatever over the top of it. They were just given a problem and told to solve it. And it was all done essentially in secret and away from the hierarchy of Lockheed.

So I essentially did the same thing. And it ended up saving my sanity. I ended up doing secret projects.

 24:04

My biggest secret project, strangely enough, was I sat down and said, "We have all these faculty bio pages. And they're all over the place. We all don't share the same information. They're impossible to follow. I want to drop them all into a database." And not only do I want to dump them into a database, I want to make it so that the departments who have the actual faculty can individually edit them, build their own versions. If they're joint, there's two different versions for two different departments. It was a remarkable piece of engineering, and my boss thought it was the stupidest idea ever.

So I went ahead, got together with the DBA, got together with the departments, and we built it. Six months after I deployed it, I told my boss about it.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: The funny thing now is we really depend on this. I mean, the new dean walked in last week and the first question he asked was about this, to me.

But let's be honest. It's dangerous. It's really dangerous to run out and do secret projects like this, to have these little things working on the side.

 25:08

And yet, if you think about it, as long as you get everything else done, you've got the time to do it. And this is the principle of Google's 80/20, that you spend 20% of your time working on these non-work projects.

Now, admittedly these non-work projects were things like Wave and Buzz. So maybe this isn't the greatest plan in the world. But Google themselves want you to work on secret projects.

And the best thing about secret projects for me was being able to sit down and do new things that I wasn't able to do because I was restricted by what we were under. And had the ability--even if it didn't work, even if this secret project failed, at least I learned. I could always destroy it. As long as I was always good about doing my work, I could get away with it.

So, you know, you should always have secret projects.

[Laughter]

 26:02

Dylan Wilbanks: But remember the spice must flow, right?

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: It's got to flow. The spice must flow.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Six. Make time for the new.

We do things a certain way for a long period of time. We have certain projects, we have certain ways of doing things, we have certain ways in code, certain methods, and then the next thing know, we wake up, and not only do we do it differently, we really do it differently. We went from horse-drawn garbage cart to recycling, and then we're like, "Oh, when in the hell did that happen?"

When I first started in my job, one of the first conversations I had was over whether we would be using ColdFusion or ASP. Who here still uses ColdFusion? Who here still uses ASP? Who uses some form of Dot Net or PHP or Python? Yeah, see?

 27:09

We did it the first way, and now it's all changed. You have to be ready to make these changes. We obviously have a lot of infrastructure invested in these sorts of things. We can't get away from ASP now. I still write in ASP.

But you have to be ready. You have to think about what's coming. And you have to be willing to experiment with what is out there, too. Social media, for instance.

Oh, I should you know experiment with new code, experiment with new patterns, experiment with new tools. Ways to make things better. Frameworks. I finally got to play with a CSS framework the other day and I went, "Holy crap, why wasn't I doing this before?"

Social media. For instance, Twitter. I was in South by Southwest in 2007. Everyone was doing Twitter, and I thought to myself, 'This is the stupidest thing ever.' It's SMS in a web--urgh. And about two months later I was starting to get it. I started to understand what was going on with it.

 28:04

And I got the school site. I went ahead and got us an account. June 2007. And I've heard people argue that Missouri Science and Technology got theirs, I think, in September? Well, I got mine in June.

[Applause]

Dylan Wilbanks: So, now we have 2,300 followers roughly. We were really at the vanguard of Twitter, especially at U-Dub. I kept finding myself getting called by other schools going, "Oh, you all have that Twitter thing. How do you do the Twitter?"

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: On the other hand, on that same day, I signed the school up for a MySpace account. Let's see how much of a failure it's been. Let's see...we've got 91 profile views!

[Laughter]

Audience 1: Those are mine.

[Laughter]

 29:00

Dylan Wilbanks: What a failure. But it was worth trying. What if MySpace had actually found a way to take off? I don't know how, but what if it had? Then we would have been in both.

So one was a complete success, one was a miserable failure. But that's OK because I tried both of them. It was an experiment. So try and experiment, but you need to learn how to discern.

You need how to also ask that question. Earlier on with Google Wave, I'm asking myself, "Is this really worth it? Is this really giving us any benefit?" And about, I don't know, five minutes in, I'm like, "I don't see how this is really going to make any practical applications." And Wave shut down.

On the other hand, on the university Web Wave, there's a little box which had all of us, "Do you think Google Wave is going to be a big thing in higher ed the next year?" 'Yes', 'No', 'Maybe'. I checked 'Maybe'. So I can't actually say I said no. Dave Olsen at West Virginia, he said no. So if you ever see him, tell him he was right.

Number seven. You can't know everything.

 30:03

Anyone read this book? Yeah. So I cannot say his name. Yvon Chouinard? I don't know. I'm really horrible at French. He was the founder of Patagonia, wrote this great book really about his business practices and Patagonia practices, but there was a quote inside of it where he talked about...

You know I got to actually point at the computer, not the screen? Even then, doesn't like me. There you go! Yeah! Yeah, computer!

"I've always thought of myself as an 80-percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach 80% proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and a degree of specialization that doesn't appeal to me."

I feel like I just contradicted number 1. I did to a point. That is, figure out what you do, but don't be over-specialized. I think that especially for what a lot of what we do, because we shift around a lot, sometimes the best you can do is 80%. But 80% is still better than nothing, and 80% is going to get you most of the way to 100.

 31:08

So, here's the big confession. I suck at JavaScript.

[Laughter]

[Applause]

Dylan Wilbanks: OK? I hate JavaScript. Douglas Crockford hates CSS, I love CSS. He is a JavaScript genius, I hate JavaScript. I am the anti-Crockford. We can't touch each other. If we do, the Web itself rips asunder.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: But here's the thing: not only do I have jQuery and everything else now, but I also have this community. And it's a community that I have on campus, it's a community I have through Twitter, it's a community I have through all these other sites, Stack Overflow and such. It helps me overcome. It helps me fill that last 20%, 30%, 40% in because we all work together, right? I mean...

Yeah. There we go.

 32:09

The thing is, if we're all stuck in this hole, then we all have to work together to get out of it. If we're all here, then the best thing we can do is help each other work it out better, and it becomes a sharing thing. I help people out with CSS, they help me out with JavaScript. I help people out with web design and user experience and they help me out with everything else I can't do.

I have a good friend of mine, Elaine, down in Olympia, and we send site design stuff back and forth to each other all the time. She works at a credit union, I work at a university. We're in two different fields and yet we go back and forth and pick each other's design apart so we can make each other better.

So the lesson here for you is you need to have a community. Or for those of you all who watch Buffy...

Audience 1: Yeah!

Dylan Wilbanks: Yeah? Have your Scoobys. Have your own Scooby gang. Just--I'm not Daphne. I think I'm Scooby.

[Laughter]

 33:12

Dylan Wilbanks: Let's talk about Twitter now, because Twitter really kind of changed the game for me at the University. Again, 2,300 followers, doing pretty well. But here's the crazy thing: 95% of what we tweet are links. We're not big on that social engagement thing. We're really good about links.

And I know that actually makes me... That's really not a good thing to say and it's a place where everyone's talking about how social media engagement is the most important thing you could ever possibly do, and you need to get someone down there right now and get it done. And here I am saying, "Well, 95% of it is just links."

But here is the thing. We have a content problem. I can't get anyone to write one for me. Well, I can, but I have one editor, who's good. She's a great editor and pretty good at writing. And that's all I have.

 34:12

However, I do have one of these. And what one of these is is we built a teensy, teensy content management system.

By the way, way back on that garbage thing. We didn't have content management systems back in the day. We had to do it all by hand. Uphill, both ways, in the snow.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Get off my lawn!

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: What this allowed me to do was hand this to our assistant to the dean, who is older, not a big computer person. All she's got to do is put the title of the article in, pick the faculty member out, write a brief description, shove it up to one of our channels.

And then I have a little program--whose name has now fallen back out of my head again--that actually grabs the RSS feed and punches it out to Twitter, and throws it out everyday.

 35:06

The thing is, the way I see it is good social media engagement really is about this full course meal. We want to give ourselves our Thanksgiving dinner. We want to make sure everyone is well-fed, well-sated, whatever else. What do we do? We hand out cupcakes.

But you know what? There's nothing wrong with handing out cupcakes. We're like those people at Costco who hand you samples on the weekend. You walk around and just eat the entire lunch out of all the samples. That's what we are. But we have 2,300 followers. We're the third-most followed public health school, and we're not that far behind Number 2. We're only about 20 or 30 behind them. The one ahead of us is Johns Hopkins, who controls the whole entire media world so we can't really get to them.

Cupcakes aren't a bad thing. Cupcakes are good.

So the lesson here for me was sometimes a little is a lot, but it's definitely better than nothing. Handing out little bits of information, it's great. But it's better than not engaging at all.

 36:06

So 9. And I'm starting to run out of time so let's get through this here.

Teaching. So I got a call earlier this year and I was told, "Hey, the web development class over in the Informatics department really needs a professor. Would you teach it?" And I thought to myself, 'Well, that's a heck of a lot of work. You have absolutely no curriculum.' And then I thought to myself, 'You know, the nice thing about it is I could get one of these.'

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: And so I endured essentially double-shifting for 10 weeks having to write a curriculum from scratch every night because the course--back then, before we had WaSP InterAct, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to write a web curriculum.

But the funny thing that came out of that for me was not only learning that we have some of the smartest students in the world at U-Dub, not only do we have these kids who just really want to know and love and build, but I also tried to ask the question to myself about: why did I do these things? Why do I do them this way?

 37:11

For instance, how many of you all know this guy? The break tag, right? Why do we use a space between the r and the 4-slash? We put it there because Netscape 4 would bork on that tag if the space wasn't there.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: How many people use Netscape 4? Uh-huh.

Audience 5: Impressive.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Can I get his IP address so I can hack it?

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: I want his credit card information.

And I started these sort of questions I had. The patterns I have, why do I hold on to them? Are they relevant? It fits back in the 'learning new things'.

I had long arguments when I talked about this at BarCamp with somebody who told me exactly what happens when that space is not there and why that space was important to be there, and I'm like, "That's not important. The important thing is, I don't think that space is really relevant anymore." Why do I still do it?

 38:13

If you can teach, you should teach, especially if you're a web developer, because--I know we're a web designer, because I tell you, the curriculums out there, for a few exceptions, are pretty abysmal. The prerequisite for my class as a web design class were 80% of the final grade was a paper.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: At a web design class.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Get out there. Help these kids. They want to build. They want to be the future. You can help them.

And the last thing, let's come back around one more time to data, OK?

Back about a month ago, on Twitter, I essentially asked the same question: if you could go back in time to your first day of work, what would be the piece of advice you would give yourself?

 39:05

And...I believe it's Brad Ward. Or you.

Audience 1: Sounds right.

Dylan Wilbanks: It's Brad Ward. He came back to me with a simple thing: "Don't make higher ed make you bitter." And a lot of you guys here actually sent other stuff in and it was really super awesome, and I loved it all, and thank you. And Georgie did. And you didn't.

But it really struck me when I thought about it, because when I came into this, I really thought this was about the 'dark ride'. And the funny thing is we're not trying to look for a sign that said this is a dark ride that was of any sort. I couldn't find one. But I could find the sign that said this is not a dark ride.

It's really easy to get bitter. Let's think about this. We know what's happening to our money. We know in public education, we're bleeding. We're going to end up being private in just a few years.

 40:09

Private guys, I know you guys are bleeding too. I don't have to tell you things are bad. We know that. And this is on top of all the other pain and aggravation we have with working with obstinate staff and political faculty and everything else.

And I feel like at times we want to come into this as if we're Aragorn, trying to save the world from the apocalypse. We're that Viggo Mortensen. And we wake up the next morning and, holy crap, now we're Viggo Mortensen of The Road!

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: When did that happen?

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Don't let it make you bitter. Right? It comes back to me to three principles: love the Web, love higher ed, and most of all, love people.

 41:04

I think if you keep those three principles in mind, the Web will be better, and I think you'll be happier.

We have to fight for what's right. And what's right is people. And what's right is this idea, this idea that Berners-Lee sat down with 20 years ago and said, "There's a way we can link these documents together. We can build this thing called a Web." And that Web has fundamentally altered everything. And for as many bad things as there's been, there's as many good things. Love people. That's the fundamental thing.

God, I feel like a preacher.

So my charge at the end of this is, get out there and build the future. This is what I told my students. The future is in your hands. You have a choice between being bitter or not bitter. You have a choice between looking at this as being 10 years in the hole or 10 years of climbing out of the hole. Take your pick.

 42:02

But I'm telling you, you're going to be far better off if you take the idea and maybe, just maybe, we can make it better despite everything going horribly wrong around us.

And just one more thing. I think I'm actually required in every slide to actually put this thing in.

[Laughter]

[Applause]

Dylan Wilbanks: So, there is my required showing of the XKCD slide. So I think... Does that mean everybody has done it now? It should be.

Audience 6: I'm in first.

[Laughter]

Dylan Wilbanks: Anyway, thank you!

[Applause]