#MozCon Speaker Interview: Karen McGrane

Posted on Monday, June 3rd, 2013 and is filed under News, SEO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Posted by Erica McGillivray

Karen McGrane I’m really excited that we’re bringing Karen McGrane, CEO at Bond Art + Science, to this year’s MozCon. A veteran of the content world, she’s a champion of making great content accessible to your audience. Karen proclaims that mobile is the best thing that’s ever happened for content. In fact, she wrote a book on it. She’ll be talking “The Mobile Content Mandate” at MozCon, and you won’t want to miss it.

When Karen’s not rooting for seamless content across all devices, you might find her on Twitter @karenmcgrane and maybe chatting about artichokes. Which as I interviewed her, I wanted to know more about both.

What’s inspired you lately?

I always get a huge burst of energy at this time of year. My birthday is April, and springtime always feels like a fresh start. I like to work outside on my terrace when the weather starts getting warm. I’m sitting outside right now! It feels like a good way to get things done and pretend that I’m on vacation at the same time.

Since you’ll be talking about mobile content strategy at MozCon this year, what mobile devices are your favorite to use?

I’m a pretty devoted iOS user—I’m on my third iPhone and second iPad (the iPhone 5 and iPad mini.) I think cross-platform use and testing is a huge challenge on mobile. My developer friends spend a lot of time (and often, money) putting together device labs for testing. We’ve been through this before on the desktop web, and hopefully we’ll move quickly to ensure cross-platform and cross-browser consistency on the mobile web too—that’s what we need to ensure the web grows and evolves.

What sites are your favorite to access on mobile devices?

Sadly, many sites still aren’t optimized for the mobile web. The New York Times mobile website is pretty weak — they’ve invested more in apps — so I still visit their desktop site from my mobile browser. (I led the redesign of that site in 2005, so I’m intimately familiar with it!)

In some cases, the mobile website is actually better than the desktop site. Travel is one category where they’ve invested in optimizing for local users, so in many cases the mobile site is faster and simpler. Booking.com provides a great mobile experience, and it shows. Their revenue from mobile bookings tripled from $1 billion to $3 billion last year. 

Booking.com

Banking is another category where they’ve invested a lot in transactional applications. I’m consistently impressed by the mobile banking app from my bank, Chase. But banks have a long ways to go in delivering content to mobile users—most offer only a paltry subset of product and customer service content compared to the desktop.

You’re an extremely proficient writer and speaker. Do you have a certain writing routine that you apply to your daily schedule? A time, a place, a device to start with, a process, music?

If I’m writing an article or a new talk, I must ensure that I have a clear schedule. I need an entire day to focus on the writing, and I can’t concentrate if I’m trying to fit it in around client conference calls and meetings. Given any opportunity to distract myself, I will do it! So I also try to make sure my apartment is tidy, and I’m at inbox zero, otherwise I’ll find myself vacuuming under the bed instead of writing.

I like to write on the sofa or outside on my terrace—I find it easier to focus when I’m away from my desk. I sit at my desk and use two monitors when I’m making slides for a talk, but when I’m writing I prefer to just use my laptop.

On your website, your tagline says “On a good day, I make the web more awesome.” Who are the people out there making the web more awesome that you admire?

I’m so grateful to so many people. I’ve learned a lot and been genuinely blessed to work with some amazing people over the years.

The team at Arc90 does some really impressive work, and they are smart people. They put out the read-it-later app Readability, as well as a bunch of projects with banks and publishers.

I teach in the MFA program in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I teach design management, which is essentially “business skills for user experience designers.” Liz Danzico is the chair of the program, and she’s assembled a fantastic lineup of instructors and every year it’s a great group of students. I learn a lot being a part of it.

And, of course, I’m indebted to Jeffrey Zeldman and the various teams at A List Apart, An Event Apart, and A Book Apart. I write a column for ALA; my book was published by ABA; and I’ve spoken at AEA many times. Zeldman has a real knack for connecting amazing people, and my work is so much better because of the high standards they set.

In addition to being on the cutting-edge of mobile, you’re also a computer history geek. Who’s your favorite unknown scientist or major contributor in computers that made a huge impact on what we do today?

Well, she’s not exactly unknown, but Grace Murray Hopper is an amazing woman and a fantastic role model for our industry. She spent 40 years in the Navy as a computer scientist, retiring as a rear admiral. There are not many programmers who have a U.S. Navy Destroyer named after them, but the U.S.S. Hopper is named for her. I describe her as “the person who taught computers to speak our language.” She came up with the first “compiler,” which essentially allowed people to type commands in English, rather than in binary. It took her years to convince people that computers could do more than just arithmetic.

USS Hopper

Okay, now what I’ve been dying to know, what’s your favorite way to cook an artichoke?

I eat a lot of artichokes. My everyday preparation is simply to steam the whole artichoke and serve it with a vinaigrette made of lime juice and good olive oil. For a fancier preparation, I like to braise the artichokes, searing them first and then simmering them in chicken stock and white wine. The only trick to braising is you need to pull off most of the tough outer leaves—I usually yank off what I think is right, then take off another layer. If you can get baby artichokes, they are especially nice when braised and served with the braising sauce over pasta. (I like to serve them with scallops.) Yum.

Yum indeed. Thank you so much, Karen, for sharing a little bit of the future, a little bit of history, and a little bit about artichokes with us. You can follow Karen on Twitter @karenmcgrane or better yet, join us for her MozCon talk.

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