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[OH-Publicity] Improving open source comes to campus websites

Michael Stone michael.r.stone at
Mon Feb 11 07:33:10 UTC 2013

On Feb 5, 2013 9:22 PM, "Asheesh Laroia" <asheesh at> wrote:
> Hi Publicity peeps,
> Michael Stone and I were chatting a few weeks ago about making websites really encourage action -- in the case of e.g., they should encourage signups.
> I wanted to invite Michael to, if he has time, try his hand at a redesign of the site that is more sales-y. It'd be a huge help; we can work from those design changes as we advertise future events.
> The page he was really impressing me with was: (which is a single-page advertisement for a book about how to make engaging web apps) -- in particular, the page really grabs the attention and retains until you ask yourself, "How do I buy this?"
> For Michael, if you want to give it a go:
> is the source to the site. Note that it uses an awful homebrew framework I hacked together 2.5 years ago; you'll be able to figure it out if you start by reading the Makefile. You'll probabl need to do this to make it run:
> sudo apt-get install php5-cli
> If you want to port it to some other framework that permits generating static HTML files, I'd be a huge fan, but I don't consider that essential. Also, if you want to just run 'make' and hack the outputted HTML rather than deal with the framework, that's fine too.
> The action we want to encourage people to take is attending the event.
> A sample bit of email-able text that gives you a sense of what we're trying to say:
> <blockquote>
> On Saturday, February 16th, OpenHatch and Harvard Women in CS group are inviting you to a day-long open source software immersion event.
> In the morning, open source contributors from various projects will teach you about open source licensing, collaboration tools, and how free software projects are organized. In the afternoon, they'll help you make contributions to open source projects. And throughout the day, they'll feed you, get to know you, and talk with you about opportunities for students in open source.
> Open source software -- software that is shared freely and available to build upon -- is a great way to apply your programming skills to real-world projects and social causes. This event specially welcomes newcomers to that style of development, and the day begins with teaching workshops that anyone can follow.
> Open source participation is one way to gain real-world skills and make connections that will last you through your career. Volunteer staff will include professionals and academics who use open source daily, from entities like Red Hat and Harvard Biology.
> The event is open to all Harvard students. Learn more, and sign up, here:
> </blockquote>
> As context, I'll summarize the bits from that I think we should add to our announcements:
> * We should emphasize that open source software is used by lots of social causes, and in general is a great way to take learning programming and apply it in ways that matter. (I adjusted the above text with that in mind.)
> * We should emphasize that the event is not just for experienced people, but a good way to get started on a journey into open source. (I adjusted the above text with that in mind.)
> * The event (and open source) are the entry point to relationships with professionals that lead to mentorship and career advancement.
> We should also, as I think about it, be tracking click-through rates, and get a sense of where people stop reading. Google Analytics and Piwik, I believe, should be able to help with that.
> So, Michael -- penny for your thoughts!
> (And Shauna, or anyone else: if you want to give it a shot too/instead, feel free to! Just say so here so people know.)
> -- Asheesh.


I'd love to help but, motivated by the fear that the scheduling on my
end isn't going to be any better this week than it was last week, I'll
start with a handful of suggestions and questions of increasing
complexity. Thus:

If you have no time:

  0. Make the entirety of the site be the div currently labeled "The
Plan": it is sufficient by itself and has a clear and adequate call to
action. (Also, if possible, inline the minimal signup form directly
into the div at the bottom.)

If you have some time:

  1. Bigger fonts! (at least for the headlines)

  2. Pretty pictures or logos! (today, there's just text.)

  3. Single page? (why do I need to click through two other pages in
order to sign up?)

  4. Shorter signup form or rationale for questions? (why are you
asking me all these things; I just want to come learn! -- e.g., will
answering them help you to help me learn more/better?)

  5. Add an optional space for "Anything else you'd like to tell us?"
or "Anything else we should know?" on the form?

  6. Don't waste your confirmation page! Currently it says:

  "Open Source Comes to Campus: Harvard University
    Your response has been recorded."

      How about: "Thanks for registering! Now, while our indefatigable
volunteers process your response, why don't you...

    a) try out our Volunteer Opportunity Finder
    b) share the love by inviting a friend to come along too
    c) get started learning about projects you might work on..."

  7. How do I tell *immediately* if this page is for me?

  8. If it is, what's in it for me?

  9. Who are you, anyway, and why should I listen to you? "Free
software enthusiasts" doesn't tell me much. (Nor, sadly, does "Asheesh
Laroia and Shauna Gordon-McKeon".)

  10. Remember Cialdini's themes: reciprocation, commitment &
consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Today,
you're really only hitting scarcity, though social proof is easily
within your reach. Perhaps lead with something like "The Background:
Students like you around the {world,country,universe} are gaining
valuable experience, connections, and skills by coding, testing, and
writing for free software projects like ..." ?

  11. Continuing on with social proof: Who are your reference
customers? Are they people like me? Do you have pictures?

  12. What's the complete package? Hit me with it! (a.k.a. "WIIFM")
(Note: the "The Plan" does this pretty well, though some illustrations
might still help.)

  13. What does it cost? Just my time?!

  14. So who will actually be teaching me?

  15. Build authority. Example: "Hmm. I wonder... oh. They already
have answers waiting? Impressive... perhaps these people know what
they're doing..."



P.S. - Also, to be really clear: is your goal for the site:

  a) to maximize attendance?
  b) to maximize signups?
  c) to get good attendance with a good mix of Harvard students?
  d) ...something else?

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