WordPress: Your Time is Now

WordPress Blogging Background

Let me start by saying that I was never a fan of WordPress until Gutenberg. Considering the massive installed base of the application, that probably comes as a shock to most WordPress fans. So the fact I’m now putting so much effort into furthering its installation base is as big of a surprise to me, as it is to you. So what changed my mind?

Developing Dominance

Making a website building application that everyone can use is no easy feat, and WordPress has shown signs of early success by tackling the more difficult problems novice developers face. When it comes to developing website builders, handling developers of different skill levels, entering the application at different development points, creates a specific set of problems.

From a development perspective, website building applications develop in only one of two ways. One, they start where developers are writing pure HTML, and work their way towards a consumer-friendly, drag-n-drop method. Two, they begin as a drag-n-drop application, supposedly requiring no coding knowledge, and have to introduce developer-level tools to assist users down the road.

The problems these processes introduce are unique to both users and developers during the application’s transitional periods, and WordPress had always suffered from the former. As a developer, it was easy to build elaborate sites using built-in hooks, shortcode, and splash in a bit of custom HTML, completing the build process, but novice website developers struggled mightily.

Introducing Gutenberg

Once a website building applications choose a development path, for better or worse, they’re locked into that path until the end. WordPress’s ability to deliver a simplified blogging experience has always been its strong point, but design needs outside of that have been a bit of a pain point.

Introduction to The Block Editor

Beginners’ frustrations have always seemed to revolve around a single issue, the lack of a native page layout builder. Hearing the forum cries of, “I need a WordPress Expert,” in combination with the success of page builders, like Elementor, the WordPress Team officially integrated the Block Editor in WordPress version 5.0.

As I mentioned earlier, it was after the deployment of Gutenberg, now referred to as the Block Editor, that I began thinking WordPress would finally reach its potential. Until the Block Editor, I couldn’t imagine how users would ever escape the endless battle with broken themes and one-time support requests.

A Case for WordPress

If you were holding out on deciding which application to use to build your online presence, I’m here to throw my endorsement behind WordPress in 2020. Because of COVID-19, there has never been a better time to either, start an online business, or increase an existing business’s online exposure.

Whether you’re looking to make some money running ads on a food blog, sell your jewelry through an e-commerce platform, or enable online ordering for your food truck, WordPress is the place to start. Me, seeing WordPress only a couple more features away from total world domination, already decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon.

If you need an exact starting point, we’re happy to help. RTR Learning, a division of RTR Digital, has developed an eLearning course focusing on helping you get WordPress off the ground. You can find more information about the course by clicking here.

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Why Automation is Taking Your Job

Robot Worker

Do you do know the difference between administrative work and gruntwork? Administrative work primarily consists of entering data and maintaining records, a task that doesn’t require decision making as much as it does following directions. Gruntwork is often tedious, repetitive, and lacks glamour, but still requires at least a small amount of skill or decision-making ability. Computers can only successfully replace one type of worker we just mentioned, which means if you work an administrative job, prepare for unemployment.

The Problem with Admin Work

DMV Logo

I admit my recent interaction at the California DMV inspired this post. I’m not writing this to pick on the DMV; it was just the perfect catalyst to begin a discussion about the impact of automation in the workforce.  My particular experience happens to be the perfect example of problems plaguing administrative work, and are the driving forces behind corporations pushing out more employees in favor of artificial intelligence and automated kiosks.

Humans tend to be okay with a lack of perfection, and when it comes to administrative work, that’s a problem. When someone calls someone else a “perfectionist,” it usually carries a negative connotation with it, implying a certain amount of annoyance with their inability to let things slide between the cracks. When your job primarily consists of maintaining and updating of records, which administration jobs do, organizations strive for perfection; something humans can’t deliver.

While computers will refuse to move to the next step of a process without proper verification, humans tend to find ways to complete processes that they shouldn’t always complete. In my case, I wanted to change the address on a drivers license that I had recently lost. A process that started smoothly, but went south because of a common problem when dealing with humans – Improper Verification

Improper Verification

Checklist

The first step in all administrative work is verification for eligibility. Whether you’re ordering food, calling into customer service, or applying for a car loan, there’s always some form of verification. McDonald’s takes your payment before preparing your food, agents verify your identity before discussing confidential information, and financiers run your credit before giving you a loan. All of the previously mentioned actions serve as verification of eligibility. The DMV is no different.

As a patron of the DMV, I had followed all the verification steps required to speak to a window agent.

– I checked in at the front desk.

– I completed the form to get my confirmation number.

– I returned to the front to get my service number.

– I waited patiently for my number to be called.

When they called my number, I approached the counter, the agent asked for my printed paperwork and began processing the request without asking any questions.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly as the final paperwork began printing, and after confirming its accuracy, I signed it. Then the agent finally asks, “what were you changing on your license?” “My address,” I replied. After quickly checking the address on my previous license, she explains it’s impossible to change my address to without a piece of mail displaying my new address.

I wondered how this could happen. There were plenty of opportunities for someone to catch a mistake in the verification process.

– There was a human at the door, who I explained to in detail the purpose of my visit. They handed me a form with checkboxes that could verify the documentation requirements, but didn’t ask about or mention that I needed any of them.

– There was another person at the testing center who I specifically called over to my kiosk to ask about my situation. They explained the need for me to select “replacement” from the drop-down menu to address the situation accurately, generated my confirmation number, and moved me along.

– Then there was the window agent, who didn’t ask any questions until the final step of the interaction. Upon realizing the error, I was sure I would be handed back my paperwork and told to return when I had the proper documentation. Instead, they reverted the information on the form to my old address and completed the request. There’s only one way this could happen – Inadequate Training

Inadequate Training

If I were on a computer, this would have never happened. A web designer would have placed a checkbox next to the change of address field that would have required me to upload the required number of documents (PDF or JPEG) to the website before continuing to the next step. Instead, a government employee just agreed to send my government ID to an outdated address, with obsolete information, well-knowing the requirements for this kind of document. I had just completed a process in a way that was detrimental to myself and the State of California. How?

As with all large organizations, a lack of a scalable training solution is most likely the culprit. Properly training employees is an expensive endeavor that doesn’t produce an objective return on investment dollars, and it is impossible to scale without serious investment. Taking the previous factors into consideration, it’s easy to see why organizations consider replacing employees with machines. They have a fixed cost of operation, accurately perform their tasks regardless of emotional factors, and have a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.

As someone who works at a company that specializes in digital learning solutions for situations like these, I was interested in seeing how poorly the system was constructed. The easiest way to confirm a lack of employee training is with the third problem that arises from humans performing administrative work –  Dissemination of Misinformation

Dissemination of Misinformation

To rectify the situation, I went home and did some research on the California DMV’s website, which wasn’t overly specific about the process, but provided me with most of what I needed. I knew I needed address verification documents, and since I was told that a leasing agreement would work, I made the poor assumption one document would do the trick. I then jumped by back in my car to do the unthinkable, make a second trip to the DMV in a single day. This time I was going with the intention of understanding what methods are available to fix this situation.

Upon arrival, I stopped at the same checkpoint designed to provide the first line of verification. After explaining my situation in detail again, the employee did a very noble thing, admitted they didn’t know the answer but committed to finding one for me. Great. They left for about five minutes, and while still in view, I saw them have a lengthy conversation with a person who seemed like they were very knowledgeable. They returned with a particular set of instructions:

– Return to the specific window where you were helped [because they had previously taken my money]

– Have them void the application

– Resubmit the application

I was surprised by the confidence in the solution, and I walked right over to window 27 to have it done. When I reached the window, it was a different story. I handed the agent the instructions, and they immediately seemed frustrated. They asked aloud, “Why would they send you back here when they know I’ll need their codes to do this?” I thought to myself; at least it can be done.

The agent disappeared for a couple of minutes and returned with bad news; I need two pieces of mail to complete the process. Considering they were the person that told me a single document, the leasing agreement, would suffice, I thought the newfound reasoning was strange. When I explained my concern, the agent left again for about five minutes, this time returning with a different answer. The number of documents was no longer the issue, I had to wait until I received the card before I can change the address. Again, strange considering their website displays a specific note that reads:

“If you have applied for a REAL ID Compliant driver license or identification card and not received your card, you must visit a DMV field office, complete a Change of Address (DMV 14) form, and present proof of residency to change your address.”

I’m just a simple man that follows directions, which I was doing, so I was beginning to get frustrated. The situation seemed to be turning towards one where I perceived my request was too inconvenient, and no one wanted to provide the level of “customer service” required to resolve the situation. Which brings us to the heart of the problem -Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service is Expensive

Customer Service Rep

What we all perceive as customer services is a series of steps designed to resolve human errors that arise from improper verification steps, inadequate training, and misinformation. Somewhere along the way, a mistake was made. It might be on the customer’s side or the vendor’s side.  Either way, how disputes are resolved determines how people view your brand. More importantly, they determine the value we place on the people responsible for interacting on an organization’s behalf.

When people perceive their time or money is being wasted, they’re unlikely to place a high value on the people with whom they interact, or on the services, they provide. When this happens, people are no longer an asset for an organization and become a detractor. When enough people are viewed as detractors, organizations have to decide if human interactions are worth the time and money they consume.

Ultimately, we question the value of humans every time they don’t tell us we’ve signed up for a trial service, or are getting an introductory price. We want better technology every time we lose our phones, and the person at the store won’t transfer our contacts because we aren’t buying anything. We want people fired when they open fake accounts to hit management quotas. Every time an employee does what’s easy, instead of what’s right, they are one step closer to losing their job to a machine.

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How Violence in Digital Media Causes Mass Shootings

Police Response

A New Normal

In an unfortunate turn of events, the US experienced two mass shootings within 24 hours, which some politicians will undoubtedly use as an excuse to reignite the debate on violence in digital media. Before I add fuel to the fire, let’s state the obvious. My heart goes out to those affected by the events that transpired in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. Although, I’m sure those affected by the events that occurred are tired of “hearts and condolences” sound bites, and instead, would like to see action taken. Believe it or not, that’s something with which I can help.

Gun Pointed

The object of this post is not to argue the finer points of scientific studies on the correlations between violent media and society. Instead, I think we can all agree; there’s no perfect amount of violence for any media platform; it will always be a matter of taste, and “there’s no accounting for taste.” The objective of this post is relay information on actionable items we can undertake to end this part of the gun violence debate.

While the tech industry hasn’t recently done much to swing public opinion in their favor, when it comes to content control, they got it right. As someone without kids, I’ve always had a strangely keen interest in the subject of parental controls. I always find myself having emotional conversations with parents who claim we haven’t done enough to help them limit what their kids watch. On the other hand, history documents overwhelming responses whenever outsiders criticize the industry on the subject.

Industry Accommodations

Fortnite Player

Since there seems to be such low awareness regarding the amount of control modern devices enable over content, let’s discuss some of the industry’s key elements.

– Parental Controls – limit the type of content that users can access on digital devices. It’s become a generic term to describe the limitations imposed through a variety of applications and systems. You can find control settings in the Play Store, App Store, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Playstation 3, Apple TV, and Roku, to name a few.

– V-chip – is a system designed to limit the type of content viewers can watch on television based on its content rating. The chip has been mandatory in all television sets since 2000 and remains one of the most underutilized features of all time.

– Content Rating Systems – “rate the suitability of tv, broadcasts, movies, comic books, or video games to its audience.” When used in conjunction with parental control systems, they effectively block audiences from viewing content which may not be suitable for them.

In summary, the tech sector has delivered all the components necessary for completing a functioning system, enabling individuals to make informed decisions about the content they access. I admit, they could step up their training and outreach programs about the availability of these features, but one thing they can’t control is participation.

Ultimately, it will be up to us to take the time out of our busy days to learn how to implement these controls on our devices. That accountability always lies with us; there is no one to point fingers at regarding our own responsibilities.

The Content Control Challenge (CCC)

We’re at the part where we attempt to start positive change. Instead of correlating some random act with a good cause, I’m going to try to create a challenge where the actions taken during the challenge have a direct effect on the problem. The challenge is called the Content Control Challenge, it’s on our Facebook page right now, and it requires everyone to set up content controls on at least one of their digital devices. Here’s how to participate.

– Take a photo or screenshot of parental controls screen on the device you’re setting it up.

– Post the picture to Facebook and mention the name of the device

– Tag 5 people you know to take the challenge and raise awareness around content control.

We’ll start…

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