We don’t need to know that

I am going to offer you advice about how to run an online community for an alumni association: simplify. Complexity is intoxicating, but simplicity is useful.

I set up an alumni association website, isu-usa.org, to have ISU alumni share their contact info with each other. Our mother institution, ISU, had set up a site in 2007 to do this, but… let’s say… that… it is not the most useful… thing. (See that? Restraint. /twitch)

My initial take on setting up isu-usa.org profiles was to request the same data that the ISU site requested. Add to that a request from an alumna to also share our educational backgrounds, and ISU*USA profiles collected data from 42 fields. (Fields such as first name, last name, email address, etc.)

What a waste. Who cares? On Friday I overhauled the profiles. Goodbye, useless data. I didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t care. Who is “they?” Alumni weren’t using the site. It was like a personal site, but sadder since it was meant to be used by others.

First I decided which fields were being transferred to the new profiles. Friends, let me tell you: 42 is the answer to everything except keeping alumni connected. Now the magic number is 14 fields. This accomplishes all of the professional and social networking that is needed.

Then came manually transferring the information to the new profile database. This can be done automatically, but I wanted to verify that the transfer happened correctly, that fields which alumni requested to be private would remain private — or in this case, deleted, since there is no such thing as private contact info anymore. Either a phone number is posted for all alumni to see, or it isn’t posted.

Next up is inviting the alumni back. I think they will appreciate the new simplicity — not that they’ll appreciate it outright, but it will be less distracting.

The lesson here is that unnecessary complexity is unnecessary. Decide what you need to know. Stop there.

That site still has 99 problems, but at least profiles ain’t one.

Exploring the museum in my backyard

I like living in Lowell. I really do. But I’m accustomed to living here now and I rarely look around. The buildings are less… exotic. I mean, they’re not strange or different anymore, or otherwise worthy of notice. Each building, each street, each canal is now just an unnoticed landmark on my way to and from work or the grocery store or the train station. What a shame.

I suffer from a disease known as localitis.

This disease is not terminal. If the person who has contracted the disease can not cure himself simply by concentrating more, then external remedies are required. Specifically, entertaining a visitor often does the trick.

My cousin David stopped by today. Hooray. So I showed him around a little, walked up and down the canals, went to the museums. Most of the remaining textile mills are in good shape. The rest had already burned down, fell down, or were knocked down years ago. There are a few along the Hamilton Canal that look like scenes from a post-apocalyptic movie.

I live at Boott Mills, which is the center of Lowell National Historical Park. (Hooray for the National Park Service.) That is, I basically live in a museum. I look out my window, boom, there’s a museum. But I had never visited the museum itself. Without standing up from the couch, I can see the museum out of my window. Is that laziness? Not exactly. I like having something nearby that I haven’t explored yet — something to look forward to.

I visited the museum today. Inside the Boott Cotton Mills museum they have one floor of working looms. It’s an interesting touch — not just static machines on display behind a sheet of glass, but the real machines still being driven by water power, still spinning cotton thread into textiles. Below are a few pictures and a video of the action on the first floor.

Loom at Boott Cotton Mills from Kirk Kittell on Vimeo.

Boott Cotton Mills Boott Cotton Mills Boott Cotton Mills