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Interview with Web Designer Ramona Iftode

The following article was originally posted on The Infinity Program. After the forum closed down, the administrator, Medora, a long-time member for Forum Promotion, graciously submitted this article to the blog. Below is the full text of the article. Thank you, and we hope you enjoy!

– Cosmic / Sinon. Editorial Team Leader. Forum Promotion.


 

Ramona Iftode is a web designer. In 2002, she created Dojo.ro, a Karate website in Romanian and the first website she designed. Miss Iftode started designing websites for clients in 2003. At around that time, she was developing a knack for community management, and tested herself as designer with the creation of many of the websites that would compose her network. In regard to community management, Miss Iftode served as moderator for KarateForums.com and PhpBBHacks.com. Also, she was recognized for her contributions at Site Point and The Admin Zone by being promoted to a “mentor” user group. By 2006, Miss Iftode had devoted herself to freelance web design, and so it came as no great surprise that by April, 2007, she would found Dojo Design LLC despite no formal education in web design. In 2010, Miss Iftode created Dojo-Design.com, home page for her web design firm, and hub to a network of 40 websites.

For this interview it was my intention to start with a few questions about Miss Iftode before moving on to questions that draw on her experience as a web designer and community manager, and though that is largely how the interview is structured there may be overlap as I thought it easier to organize if I am not too concerned about it. After that, in any case, I will ask a few goofy or oddball questions to lighten the mood. And while I am speaking about how this interview is conducted, I should also mention that it was conducted via email.

Without further ado, here is the interview:

Kevin Malone: What is your educational background?

Ramona Iftode: You’ll be shocked to find out I actually have NO formal web design training. I’ve studied Letters (Romanian-English) and should be a teacher. Have worked as a radio DJ for 10 years instead and now as a web designer. I am a self-taught designer. Everything I know comes from reading articles and working as much as I could.

Kevin Malone: So is freelance website development primarily how you earn an income?

Ramona Iftode: Yes, for more than two years now. I used to work as a radio DJ for a decade and web design was just a hobby. Even if I’d eventually earn something from it, it was always the second choice. Once the studio closed and I lost my main income, I decided it was time to take it to the next level and stop “playing”.

Kevin Malone: If I correctly understand, Dojo Designs, a limited liability company, is the only one you have started. How was the experience of setting up a company? Was it difficult to set up?

Ramona Iftode: He he, in Romania? Are you kidding me? It’s a pain. Setting up a company here requires a lot of paperwork and wasted time. I was fortunate enough to find a good accountant and send her to all those wonderful places. I just signed for the stuff and paid. So, if you’re paying someone, it can be done just by giving them the money and signing papers. If not, you’ll spend some quality time in queue.

Kevin Malone: In 2006 you said that “[url=’http://www.karateforums.com/post355672.html#355672′]It’s been a while since I ‘tasted’ a normal book[/url]” because “I have been busy reading and writing web design articles and tutorials.” It is 2011 now, but you are now even more steeped in your web design work. When reading, is web design still your overwhelming focus, or have you been able to sneak in more miscellaneous books every now and then as you gain competence and experience? What authors and which articles were particularly influential and important to you when it came to web design? As a fan of literature, what are a few of your favorite reads and authors, and have you discovered any of these recently?

Ramona Iftode: Fortunately things have changed in the past months. I have got myself a small Nook Color and started reading again. From the books I loved reading there I can name few: George Orwell – 1984, Aldous Huxley – Brave New World, Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five.

I also read a lot about web design and WordPress themes, freelancing and personal finance. Once you become an entrepreneur, it’s hard to steer clear from the books that will help you in your business.

There wasn’t any book to ‘inspire’ me to go into web design; I actually started these after years in the business. My transition to being self-employed came after talking to a successful freelancer in my city who told me to stop working for others and start working for me.

Kevin Malone: You started carrying out website design jobs in 2003. Since then, how many clients have you had? As I assume you may not have an exact number, would it be in the hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands?

Ramona Iftode: Back then my clients were pretty scarce. I had a full time job as a radio DJ and was also learning a lot about design, so it wasn’t too serious. I’ve started working more since July 2009, when I lost my job at the radio station and decided to start working “for me”. Since I am still a one man show, we can count my clients in the low hundreds (100-200 maybe).

Kevin Malone: What inspired you to take up Karate, and why Shotokan in particular? On your blog’s “About Page,” I noticed that you mentioned a Karate website in Romanian as your first notable attempt at web design. From this I am lead to believe that you have taken up Karate well before you ever started taking web design seriously. That said, in a topic at KarateForums.com titled “[url=’http://www.karateforums.com/post166652.html#166652′]Self Defense for Woman… questions[/url],” you pointed out the need for a sustained effort in Karate rather than just “Working twice a week and then sitting on a couch for the rest of the week.” Did this work you willed yourself to put in for Karate significantly influence your work ethic when it came to web design?

Ramona Iftode: My passion for karate is long lived. When I was a kid I saw that infamous Karate Kid movie, that’s a joke for any real martial artist. I mean it’s so farfetched it hurts. Still it did something: made me interested in martial arts.

My father used to practice karate as a teenager and he broke a wrist, so my folks decided it’s too tough for a girl. When 15 I also read James Clavell’s Shogun and it made me love Japan as much as one can love a country one’s never visited.

The breakthrough in my martial arts came when I was 20 and joined a karate class. I was “big” enough to decide for myself and started my martial arts training.

In 3 months time I was already well equipped with information (I tend to be a “nerd” and read everything I can about a certain topic) and, since there was no Romanian site that would present karate to the masses, I created dojo.ro

By reading a lot of articles, doing work in the dojo and also discussing about this with my fellow members on KarateForums.com (which is an amazing community), I was able to prepare some articles to post on the site.

As a newbie in karate, I was a mess. I do believe I’ve gone down in the history of our club as the most uncoordinated student. Lack of technique, stamina, a menace. And still, after many, many hours of super-hard work and dedication I was able to accomplish many things I never thought possible.

This is the secret in martial arts: you can have talent or not, but with hard work, you’ll achieve amazing results. This has shaped me in the end. I never see myself as someone who cannot do something. I know the beginning is difficult, but I’m always willing to do the extra work. My web design career started VERY LOW. I didn’t have a computer back then, couldn’t yet afford one. For 1 year I’d work on my site from work. Had to start from zero with HTML, then CSS. Everything I know now it’s the result of thousands of hours of work and an insane dedication.

In karate as in any other activity, one needs to work a lot to succeed. There is no “I can’t do it” for me, it’s just “OK, I’m pretty lousy at this. How do I improve?”

Kevin Malone: I read that you like to travel a lot. Relatedly, at WomenOnlyForums.com, I stumbled upon a topic you created titled “Beautiful places we have seen: PHOTOS,” and wherein you mentioned traveling to Prague and Berlin in quick succession. Also, you recently posted a topic in the “Classifieds” forum at The Admin Zone wherein you announced the sale of Wtricks.com due to lack of time because you “are getting ready to leave the country again” “for 6 months”. When reading this, I am reminded of television personality Sarah Lane, who has spent countless hours traveling but nonetheless expressed embarrassment over how few countries she has gone to compared to a friend of hers.

Have you traveled to many countries, and are there many more you wish you had time to get to? Which of the countries you have visited so far were the most fun to explore? What are a few places within these countries that particularly enchanted you (e.g., a forest, landmark, opera house, etc.)? Finally, before I move on, I happened upon a recent comment in your profile at TAZ wherein you said that “For us Europeans the US is a bit weird in some ways, but the experience has been terrific.” I cannot help but ask: What are some of the ways in which the U.S. struck you as “weird”?

Ramona Iftode: I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a lot in the past years. My BF is the one I have to thank for all these wonderful places we’ve seen. I’ve visited Germany (Munich, Berlin and Dresden) and absolutely love these cities. What I love about Germany is the super clean cities they have, excellent organization. If we talk about Munich, then you gotta see their “Rathaus” in Marienplaz. SUPERB. In Berlin I loved the Brandenburg Gate and the historic area in Dresden is to die for. Gotta see it.

We’ve also seen Austria (Vienna) and this too is a terrific city. Prague was a ‘shock’ for us. We stopped for a couple of hours (we were driving towards Berlin) and the couple or hours turned into 7. Charles Bridge is superb and their entire central area is just amazing. My god, that’s a good looking city.

In the summer we love going into Croatia. Dubrovnik is our choice and that place is heaven. We’ve always loved places that are filled with history and the old stronghold built from the sea is to die for.

Our journeys got more interesting the past year, when our good friends from NYC invited us to live with them for 6 months. There’s no way in the world I’ll be able to thank them for all they’ve done for us. It’s been like Christmas morning each day.

“America” is something different from an European’s perspective. Let’s say we have cleaner cities. I was appalled to see how dirty and smelly “The Big Apple” is. Come one, it’s horrible. It took me 2-3 weeks to realize this is not Berlin and won’t be clean. Only then I started actually enjoying it.

The huge cars were something pretty funny too. Us Europeans have smaller cars and are careful with the fuel consumption. It’s true gas in Europe is almost twice as price is concerned.

The food is a bit different, we don’t eat too much veal, and our portion control is a bit better. Many restaurants in the US have such huge portions I’d have to eat for 3 days to be able to finish what’s on my plate. Loved the hot-dogs and all sorts of “junk’ food though.

What I loved the most about the USA (we’re getting back there this year, so we did have a blast), is the people. They are so easy-going and nice, it’s been a pleasure. We loved NYC and it’s an amazing city. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend quite some time WALKING in the city and I love it more and more. Can’t wait to see it again.

Kevin Malone: It is my understanding that English is not your native language. Since you are from Romania, I assume your native tongue is Romanian. That in mind, I recently read a blog post by Hari Shanker titled “Being bi-lingual has its advantages,” and what interested me was the author’s claim that being fluent in more than one language boosts creativity, and “actually allows you to explore the same topic from a totally new angle which a mono-linguist might not be able to appreciate.” Has this ever occurred to you? Whether yes or not until now, do you consider it advantageous to your way of thinking to know another language?

Ramona Iftode: I do think I am fortunate enough to know 2 languages, since not being able to speak anything but your native tongue is “sad”. Romanian is a “rich” language and filled with some very nice expressions. And, since it’s not a “German” language, it forced me to think in a different manner, when talking/writing in English. Grammar is different, pronunciation too, it’s another thing.

Don’t know how much it affects creativity, but it surely forces me to think about the subject in more ways. And the brain’s doing some “work” too, so it’s all fine.

Learning English has been the breakthrough for me. This way I have access to clients from all over the world (and have actually worked with people from the USA, Hong Kong, Germany, Israel etc) and be able to talk to people from all kinds of cultures and countries. As a karateka this helped too, giving me the chance to talk to my sensei about what people do in their martial arts clubs in all parts of the world and, since he’s a very open minded guy, it helped him better his teaching and gave me the opportunity to see how things get done in the other side of the world.

It’s absolutely fascinating and I believe the best thing I’ve done in this life was working as much as I could on my English. I am far from being perfect and will never have the skills a native speaker has, but it’s enough to write and speak to people and take on all their amazing ideas.

Kevin Malone: From your work as a moderator at KarateForums.com and PhpBBHacks.com, you must know Patrick O’Keefe well. How was it like to work with him, and what did you learn from him?

Ramona Iftode: Let’s gossip then 🙂

I “met” Patrick when I joined KarateForums.com. Weird enough, back then my dojo nickname wasn’t used on that forum, so I am ramymensa there. On all the other forums (hundreds I think), I am dojo. Of course, based on the dojo.ro site I own, thought it would make a good “brand”. As you can guess my business is called Dojo Design. Doh, am pretty creative, aren’t I?

But I’m again getting off topic.

So. I joined KF some years ago. When I was younger and Patrick was a kid. I was shocked back then to see a teen run such a big forum. And let’s say he’s never acted like a kid, as anyone would expect it.

After posting a lot there and being involved in the community, he invited me in the moderation team. It’s been a blast. He’s got some amazing skills when it comes to management and such a huge experience. I do think that, if I was able to grow as a forum admin, it’s because being inspired by this “kid”.

He was my model when it came to earning money online. 9 years ago, when I started dojo.ro, I could never imagine I’ll earn a living from running a network of sites and work as a freelancer. Come on, I’ve been raised to have a “proper job”, not stay at home all day long in front of my PC.

So Patrick was the first person I saw making a living from his network. As a teenager, he’d make money online and it made me realize that, if a kid can do this, I can.

I had to step down from my moderator status after a while, since running my (back then pretty huge) network was too time consuming. He’s always been an amazing influence on me and a gentleman. I’m one of the few people who got his book to read, before being actually sold to the public, and he’s always been supportive of what I did.

There’s nothing I have for Patrick but respect and love. He’s just amazing.

Kevin Malone: In an article titled “[url=’http://www.copyblogger.com/energize-your-writing/’]Wake up! 7 Simple Ways to Energize Your Writing Powers[/url],” Dean Rieck describes how writers may, let us say, keep their “creative juices flowing” and avoid “falling into a rut.” Although your work has to do with designing rather than writing, the idea should be relevant to you, too: Is there a routine you follow before you start designing? Perhaps you warm up with Karate exercises? What does your ideal workspace look like?

Ramona Iftode: My ideal workspace is my desk, of course. My dog sleeping 1 meter away from me, sun shining from the window. I work from home and LOVE IT. Still, as a freelancer you don’t always work from home. All I need is my laptop and self to work, so I’ve worked from other places too. For 6 months, when being at our friends in NYC, I’ve worked from their living room table, not even a “proper” desk. And it didn’t matter.

My karate classes have helped me in some ways:
– Focus: when I have to work on something, I can work for 10 hours straight. And have done this. I am such a “maniac” that I just don’t sense that times goes by. I have a task and go for it.
– Goals: you cannot do something perfectly from the start. So my karate lessons taught me to take it slowly, have a main goal and some smaller ones and work to attain them one at a time. It actually works

When it comes to writing, I don’t have the “writer’s block” anymore, because I use a posting schedule (I’ve detailed this: http://ramonaiftode.com/a-better-blog-have-a-posting-plan.html) and it’s easier to write.

If we talk design, I just take my materials into account (logo, images, details from the client) and try to see how I’d make the site. Then I start the design and it works OK.

Kevin Malone: Hector Berlioz wrote in his Memoirs of waking one morning able to “recall nearly the whole of the first movement [of a symphony],” but deciding against getting it all down because he feared being consumed by a desire to complete it, publish it, and perform it. The reason he was so fearful was that he already had financial trouble, and had a family to support. Also, he was writing articles those days to make money, so to focus on his symphony would of course diminish his main source of income, and the symphony would not make up for the loss. So even when Mr. Berlioz woke the next morning with an even more complete composition and a feverish excitement in getting it all down, he had only to be reminded of his thoughts the previous night to stop. The dream did not come again.

Apparently, a livelihood dependent on freelance work requires a force of will that a great many are not up to. Have the demands of freelance work required you to sacrifice or severely undermine interests of great passion that you would have liked to devote great time to if only money were not an issue? If money were not an issue, would you have carved your career path (so far) differently? Of course, there is no way you would have chosen your path if design were not your passion, but was there ever that lingering doubt gnawing away at your consciousness, or were you always certain about the path you would — wanted — to take?

Ramona Iftode: I am in that privileged position to actually live my dreams. I never thought I’d work as a freelancer and it’s been great. So my passion is my work and my work is my passion. I do steer away from certain activities I know are not too enjoyable though. Even if I do have some SEO knowledge too and could earn money from this, I hate the job, so I don’t take projects like this. I can do translation and still I’d hate it, so I focus on what I love: web design. It’s easier to wake up in the morning to work, when you know you’re actually doing only what you enjoy. For me this is very important, since I cannot excel in areas I hate.

Kevin Malone: In an article you titled “Content is King: save yourself from a checkmate,” you pointed out that under no circumstances are your articles ever even partially reprinted. At the most, only a link is to be provided, and that goes for any article you cite, if I understand correctly. Your strategy strikes me as the polar opposite of a few article writers I have seen at online community promotion and management forums who reprint/copy-paste their articles every chance they get. What do you think about these people who reprint their articles at several websites? Are they misguided in thinking theirs a good promotion strategy? Isn’t it that more people read it and they become better known? Or is it that they should be going the route of creating unique articles for their websites and those of others, instead of “cross-posting”?

Ramona Iftode: Well, I’ve done EzineArticles and others like this years ago. Submitted good content there and wasted time and effort on those horrible content sites. Let’s face it, they’re so filled with “useless” content it’s horrible. After “losing” 4-5 articles and getting 3-4 visits from these “amazing” sites, I realized my content IS FOR ME.

I stay away from DUPLICATE content as much as I can and have waged wars against people who stole my articles. I do put a lot of efforts into my writing, flawed as it is, and keep my content unique and original. I might consider some guest posting in the future to make people more aware of my articles, but the content I make is created for MY SITES. And, since I have a good network too, I can do without the 5 visitors the article sites might send me.

Had very bad results with Digg, BlogEngage and other similar systems. Waste of time. For those 5 visitors, it’s not worth working on that promotion. So far, forum posting has been THE BEST way to drive traffic to my sites. And blog commenting too. It’s easier to attract the right people, since they know my writing from that site and kinda know what to expect on my projects. They usually make the best members too.

Kevin Malone: In an article by John Allsopp titled “A Dao of Web Design,” it was argued, in a category titled “Controlling Web Pages,” that web designers are misguided in seeing themselves as controllers (“pixel mechanics”) who “want to override the wishes of users, and the choices that they have made about their viewing experience (by ‘fixing’ font size, for instance)” and “want to second guess platform differences, caused by different logical resolutions (for instance the Macintosh’s 72dpi, versus the standard Windows 96dpi).” As a web designer yourself, do you believe that the average web designer is indeed using an outdated frame of mind that seeks to control every facet of the web page the way editors would control the medium of print (e.g., a newspaper)?

Ramona Iftode: If we are talking control freaks, then I am one of them, that’s for sure. I too design a theme and FIX most of the things I can. Some might say it’s not a good idea to not have a fluid layout, but I fix that too. Since I view my sites from 2 different laptops (the big one with 1600 pixels resolution wide and a small one with 1024) having a fluid layout can really ruin the design. I mean sometimes it hurts my eyes seeing a 100% wide layout on 1600. I can barely follow the text.

So, since I am the control freak I am, the designs come fixed and this allows me to work on the columns widths better, making the text easy to read and making sure the background is laid out nicely too.

As far as fonts and other elements are concerned, yes, they’re fixed too. Most of the time, when I design something, I have a very clear image of what I need to accomplish there. As you were able to see, in some of my work the details are so many that any change, even 1 pixel change in the font size would ruin the entire design.

This is why the themes I create are made “fixed” and then people can actually focus on the content. I have designed a Thesis theme once (it’s a WordPress theme that allows you more customization) and it’s been a horrible experience. Because you, as the content creator or client if you will, have to write, not mess around with the theme.

Even if I am the designer on my sites, I create a theme and THAT’S IT. I don’t change font sizes weekly, I don’t mess with the design. All I have to do, once the design is set up, is work on the promotion, content etc.

Kevin Malone: As someone who has managed many forums, what was your promotion strategy? Has social networking and promotion forums played a major part in getting the word out about your community? What would be some of your advice to those new to the art of promotion?

Ramona Iftode: You’d be amazed to find out that, even if I am a web savvy person and an active blogger / forum member, I don’t use social media this much. And I believe the reason is there’s too much junk there. When I join a community, it’s very easy to weed out the useless content (most communities I am a part of are excellent content wise) and focus on the good stuff.

Most of my traffic comes from commenting on forums and blogs, providing good input and trying to bring in something more to the topic. This way I can also promote my site and help that blog/community to have an even better content.

When it comes to social media, I feel there’s too much noise. And me, being the control freak and perfectionist I am, it’s frustrating to have to deal with this all. I don’t say SM is not a good way to promote; I just don’t have the time and willingness to spend that time trying to find information nuggets amongst all that junk.

I do have a Facebook account that helps me connect with some friends and relatives and a quasi-inactive twitter account. So that people don’t say I don’t have them.

Kevin Malone: It is my understanding that you are disillusioned with IP.B and vBulletin (“now I sit on 3 VB licenses and 1 of IPB that are useless to me”), but are still fond of phpBB and MyBB. However, it seems to me that MyBB has done more than the alternatives to win your affection, so I wonder: What is it that MyBB offers you, but the other software do not?

Ramona Iftode: I think it’s important to discuss my entire journey when it comes to forum platforms, because my opinions come after years of working on various systems.

The first platform I used was phpBB. This was back in 2004-2005. It was the first system I had to make a design for. You can imagine I’d create a new logo and then look for 30 minutes for the right place to implement it. The next step was to learn how to make a header and footer, small changes in the templates that then allowed me to design more complex themes.

I’ve done my schooling on phpBB, so it’s always gonna have a place in my heart. In 2006 one of my forums was elected as “Board of the Year” on phpBBhacks.com, that’s the second biggest PhpBB community, after the developer’s site. It was one of the best things happening to me and it showed me how much I’ve accomplished.

The release of PhpBB 3.x wasn’t such a good thing for me. I never really liked the system and it was the moment I realized there’s a need for something else.

As I was growing my webmaster community and people were praising vBulletin, saying you cannot run a successful forum and be professional without it, I fell victim to “peer pressure” and started buying licenses for some of my forums.

It was all OK for a while, until I started running into problems. The support was far from being stellar, everything starting with “please revert the forums to the default theme and settings”. Well, sorry to say this, but I don’t run a “default” forum and, when I pay almost 200 bucks on a script, I’d like to hear something more than “sorry, can’t help”.

Then spam hit us. My forums on VB and IPB were a paradise for these people and it was pretty difficult to find some good anti-spam plugins. I do have a couple on the forums, but it’s not a sweet ride at all.

The new versions have WAY TOO MANY features no one needs in the end. I am running a forum, not a dating site, so I don’t need friends and all other junk. I need a smooth script that doesn’t crash after an update, that doesn’t have plugins rendered useless after an update, that doesn’t force me to pay more to upgrade to a new version I have personally not asked for. Case in point: VB4.

While getting my hands dirty with VB and IPB and investing in the “future” of my communities, I tried SMF too and it’s been a horrid experience. It was the first time I was in a support community and met such bad behavior from the developers. They were mean to people who asked questions, it was hard to find a solution, the community itself was badly organized so, searching for something was a 3 hour job. Not to mention the script is UGLY as can be and this didn’t make me love it either.

My stint with SMF was short lived, that’s for sure. After 3-4 months with it and trying to tweak it as I do with all platforms I use, it was time to look for something else once again.

And then I found MyBB. Well, to be honest, I know MyBB since they started out, but back then it was just a bad platform that would copy VB. It was not an option, that’s for sure. But the people there have worked a lot in the past years and the script is amazingly good. I run an active Romanian board on it and, even if I do have at least 1 VB or IPB license lying around, I wouldn’t port my forums to it if someone paid me to.

The past years I started migrating my vBulletins and IPBs to MyBB and am VERY, VERY pleased with the little thing. Weird enough, it’s not a paradise for spammers either, so, the moment I switched scripts, spam “died”.

After spending close to 1000 bucks on forum scripts, I came to use a FREE solution. It does everything I need it to do, the theme design is pretty simple, the support is outstanding, and there are some excellent plugins to use too. Love it.

Kevin Malone: The Admin Zone had a user group called “Mentors” which had two members, including you. That user group was described as being for members with “a great deal of experience in a specific area of community building and management” who would “focus on helping users and offering advice in specific areas of community building.” Those “specific areas” included managing online communities, IP.B, and phpBB. Also, for the Admin Experience custom field at TAZ, you have chosen “Guru.” If asked why she is a guru, each person would answer differently. That said, why are you a guru, and would you consider the qualifications that granted you “Mentors” status sufficient for being identified as a guru?

Ramona Iftode: To be honest, I’ve set that when I joined TAZ. Wasn’t a very modest person back then. Not that I’ve changed too much 🙂

I have worked on forums for 9 years this March. It means thousands of hours spent tweaking designs, working on the content, managing the communities, dealing with spam and idiots. Even if I’m far from being the biggest forum admin in the world, there’s still a great deal of experience that might prove the “guru” title to have a meaning.

As for being a “mentor” there, I cannot say anything but that it humbles me.

I have many posts on TAZ and it’s so far one of my favorite forums. I’ve been away few times, because of my schedule and also traveling, but I always get back there with great pleasure. It’s an amazing community, with some superb members and top content. It’s the perfect forum if you allow me to say this.

Since I’ve always felt good there and I actually know some stuff when it comes to forum management, this led me to post a lot there and try share some of my input there. My hard work was not in vain and they sought out a way to show the appreciation. I thank them for this and am glad I could be of help.

Kevin Malone: In response to a September, 2010, article titled “How to Get Your Guest Post Pitch Noticed,” you complimented the author for great advice but said you are not yet ready for guest posting because you are trying to build up your content first. It seems you obviously want to build up content so that, when readers notice your guest blog post and click the link to your website, they will find plenty of content to digest and will want to come back. I suppose that depends on what website you are looking to promote; if it is ramonaiftode.com, it seems to me that you already have a treasure trove of content.

In any case, what do you consider a good enough quantity of content? Have you submitted any guest blog posts yet? In an article by Jonathan Morrow titled “The Three-Step Guide to Getting More Traffic by Writing Less,” it is advised that you submit one guest post at a popular blog once a month, and that you increase your posts and promotions once you start getting results. Is this the strategy you had in mind?

Ramona Iftode: I haven’t done guest posting for one reason: I don’t feel ready to do this. As you say, a guest post is better done in a popular blog or forum. But this means HUGE expectations from the article and I don’t know if the quality of the content I can provide rises to the occasion. I write in my own style on the blogs I own and was never able to see if I can “qualify” for a big blog author position.

As far as my content is concerned, I’ve put a lot of work lately to be better organized, write more and better. And try to provide articles that make sense and are useful, not only junk content so that I can say I’ve done my “job”.

I might consider guest posting in the near future, but I need to really get myself together and make sure I have some good content on my sites so that people do have something to read there.

Kevin Malone: I was looking at your advertisement topic for WomenOnlyForums.com located in the “Showcase” section of the MyBB support forum, and from that discovered another of your many lovely designs. Relatedly, the first person to comment about your forum in the aforementioned topic was apparently impressed by your use of something called “contrast.” It is not until recently that I became familiar with “contrast” as it relates to the design of website layouts when a vBulletin coder critiqued the default layout of my forum and mentioned his disappointment in what he saw as a blending of similar colors that fails to encourage the reader to focus on the writing or content. Since I was not sure what he meant, I did a search and found the following from a topic he titled “Unconventional vBulletin Inspiration”:

Contrasting colors
Many people are extremely mislead when it comes to contrasting colors. Just because colors look good together doesn’t mean they deserve to go against one-another. What do I mean? If you have a website with nothing more than every kind of brown known to mankind (light brown, dark brown, tan, wood, oakwood, morning-wood), yes – they will look decent, it’s only logical. But is it the right move? Does it really contrast?

Contrast compare or appraise in respect to differences.

The keyword here is differences. Take vbulletin.org for example. Dark blue headings, light gray/white content backgrounds. It keeps things in perspective, makes you continue to read since the text contrasts perfectly (sticks out) against the backgrounds, and it keeps people browsing as oppose to simply glancing around.

That said, has your utilization of “contrast” in the design of website layouts been a conscious effort, or did it just seem right to you? Would you say that “contrast” is one of the most commonly neglected or improperly used elements of website layout design?

Ramona Iftode: Well, to be honest, the VB theme is far from looking good. The new version is better, but still for me it’s just something I’d change the second I have installed the script.

When I design a theme I have 2 things in mind: the overall color combination (pink, blue, gray etc.) and a contrasting complementary color if possible. I’ve done designs that don’t really follow the rules, but, as long as the colors work, it’s OK.

I do like having a strong bright color I use seldom: logo, maybe some links. The other colors do usually work nicely together and the “bright” one is just a “spice”. Like using salt and pepper if you will.

My design comes now pretty effortless and I don’t always rationalize my choices. I cannot really tell you “ya know, for this site I have chosen this color because …”

I do work based on my topic and think about a style. We have the “quirky” invatam.net design, that’s really, really been a blast to make (as you found out, it was for another forum at the beginning), something “womanly” as the WOF design, I have more elegant and strict designs depending on many factors.

My clients’ opinions are important too. Most of them are not so willing to risk an unusual image, so, if I wanted to try something different design wise, I had to do this on my sites. The good thing is I have enough to play with.

I do have theoretical knowledge about web design, but after years and years of practice I have my own habits and style. And it’s not a bad thing in the end, since design doesn’t mean only rules, but a lot of personality and imagination too.

Kevin Malone: On your blog’s “About” page, you mentioned becoming quite opinionated about forum management in 2006. That in mind, you recently informed me that you scrapped GoFreelancing.info because that forum community consumed much time yet saw little growth, and the minuscule growth managed was dominated by paid posting and exchanges. That reminds me of a point I made in a reply I submitted to a topic titled “Do Packagers Help or Hinder”:

… I suppose post packages may be seen as a long term solution in that it keeps the forum afloat when used for every lull, but the question comes creeping for anyone who sees it as a problem: how much of your community is not from packages? What are you really building if packagers are required for there to be any semblance of community? Whether there is a problem, then, relies on what you are hoping to accomplish, and what you care to do to accomplish it.

Also, during my interview with Patrick O’Keefe, he said the following about post exchanges:

… There are some things that I view as unethical. For example, post exchanges or paid post arrangements where one person acts as more than one person. I think that’s a bad thing to do. Not only ethically, but because, eventually that person will go away. What happens if another member liked that imaginary person? How do you explain that? You have to have better foresight.

Coincidentally, this seems to be one area of community building where Mr. O’Keefe and you have a clear difference of opinion.

I cannot say how widespread is the use of post exchanges, but I understand that such deals are frequently made at online community promotion and management forums. Appropriately enough, too, a question often arises at these forums that I would like to repeat to you: are exchanges more of a help or detriment to a forum community in the long term? What are mistakes people often make when using posting deals? In other words, if they are to be used, how are they to be used to utilize benefit to your forum community? And finally, going back to community builders like Patrick O’Keefe who think posting deals an ethical problem, or novice forum administrators like me who are uncomfortable using tactics that employ some degree of deception to members obtained without posting deals: What is your rebuttal to this view of posting deals?

Ramona Iftode: Patrick is an amazing forum admin and he’s so into being correct it’s almost insane. While I do agree that paying for posts, making fake accounts or exchanges is slightly unethical, it’s also true that Patrick doesn’t have to start a new forum FROM ZERO in 2011. His communities have been started years ago, they are indeed TOP communities, with amazing content, but they don’t have to battle the big boards dominating the forums world nowadays.

The problem with new forums is that, even if people are saying “oh, it’s not OK to do this and that”, they don’t join unless they see some activity. Well, if they won’t join “naturally” because I have no activity (other than mine) and I don’t have activity, because no one joins… what do we do now?

I see no difference between setting up a post exchange with someone or nagging my family and friends to help kick start it. They come “forced”, so it’s the same for me, if we talk ethics.

So for me there is no deception. Deception towards whom? People who act like “sheep”? They see the forums, they have 20-30 topics to start with, maybe some articles, the forums look beautiful, it’s all OK and still, even if this might entice them to join, they stay and watch just because “no one joined yet”.

I am gonna track my progress with martialartlinks.com, since I’ve re-started the community. Am curious to see how many new people will join after I have 2-3 more members there. I do have enough visits from specialized people too, but so far they’re expecting a miracle I assume.

From another point of view: no one comes into a forum anymore just because they love it. Most our members are there TO PROMOTE themselves too. My commenters on the blogs are there for the links, my members in all the forums I run, are there for the link. I post in some forums to also promote my sites.

So, if it’s a member who’s posting as part of a post exchange deal or someone who’s there to promote through the signature, it’s the same in the end. As long as the content is good and they are not breaking any rules, I don’t really care who’s posting what in a forum.

So, I’d really advise you to think about some sort of a solution: paid posting, exchanges, fake accounts. Doesn’t matter. The idea is to kick start that community and make the lurkers join. You can have a forum pick up after 3-4 months or 3-4 years. If you like seeing your account only on the forums, then don’t “force” anything. I certainly hate this and will actually do my best to make that community start working.

Kevin Malone: The layout you designed for GoFreelancing.info and which now use for Invatam.net is one of the most pleasant I have ever seen for a forum community. Also, said layout certainly played a part in enticing me to register, though whether that is because it shows the amount of work you put in, it was a treat for the eyes, or because of both or more reasons, I am hard pressed to express. In any case, the reason I bring this up is because thinking about the layout reminded me of a topic of discussion often started at forum communities, especially those with a focus on online community promotion and management; i.e., is it layout or content that is the more pressing concern for a forum community?

In a similar topic at my forum, Karim Temple pointed out that importance is judged by significance and urgency. He went onto say that content was significant, but design was urgent; i.e., if two websites have great designs, the one with superior content wins, but if one website has a poor design that alienates readers, the website with inferior content but a great design wins. Finally, though he allowed that content is probably the whole point, he pointed out that content is common and can be had, that even superior content relies on the appeal of its host platform, and that a top notch design is a lot rarer than superior content. Do you agree with this reasoning?

Ramona Iftode: For me this was always something like “you know, I want a strong car, but would also like it to be red”. What stops you from getting a strong red car? The look has nothing to do with the engine power and you won’t lose speed just because it’s red.

Same with the old problem: design vs. content.

Well, you know what? A good site looks “deadly” and provides a content that’s worth visiting. SIMPLE AS THAT. I might be biased as a designer, but I cannot understand why people would defend their ugly sites by saying “content is king”. Yeah, it is, but a naked king won’t impress anyone.

Just as I don’t go outside in my underwear, I don’t see why my sites have to be ugly. If I am a designer, then I’ll work on a decent template. It doesn’t have to be a “genius” design, I cannot always make a design that’s so special as the invatam.net design for instance. But getting something pretty there and not the default theme isn’t really rocket science.

And, if you’re lousy as a designer, HIRE someone. With 300-400 bucks you can get someone to design a DECENT theme for your site. OK, you might not earn prizes with this, but you won’t have people cringe when seeing your page.

I don’t join ugly forums. I don’t read ugly sites. If a webmaster cannot spend some hours or money to not cause my eyeglasses to crack, then I can always visit a site that’s looking nice. Let’s not forget, in any niche there are at least hundreds if not millions of sites we’re competing with.

One can play the “content” card or provide their visitors with the complete experience. It’s not that difficult in the end.

Kevin Malone: The computer is apparently important for the work you do, so I wonder: What is your preferred operating system? Also, what writing and graphic design programs do you prefer working with? Is a lot of your work done “in the cloud” (e.g., using a service like Google Docs), or are you using offline programs the overwhelming majority of the time?

Ramona Iftode: I like Windows. Yeah, shocking, I know, when most people complain about it. And it doesn’t matter to me if it’s Windows 7, Vista or XP. I use the programs and it takes me seconds to open them. I am pleased with the OS I have and feel no need to change. It’s secure enough, as long as I don’t have ‘bad’ browsing habits.

I’d never use any Apple products since they are expensive. My laptop (an HP) cost me $560, while a similar MacBook Pro was over $2000. So I chose something less ‘cool’, while it does the same things and does them well.

My work consists of ‘playing’ in Photoshop and coding my templates in Crimson Editor. I don’t use a WYSIWYG editor anymore. I save ALL my files on my computer and run a small project management script on my portfolio site. I don’t really like using ‘remote’ locations and services. Not to mention my agenda (regular pen and paper, not ‘electronic’) does wonders when it comes to not forgetting my tasks.

Kevin Malone: In an article on your blog, you mentioned being into sports, which I take to obviously mean not just Karate. What sports are you into? While I speak of hobbies, what are a few besides those already mentioned in this interview?

Ramona Iftode: I am open to ANY sport. While I might practice Karate, I can go to swim, play soccer or tennis. Or just ride the bike. Anything goes for me and I love it when I can move a little.

Kevin Malone: You mentioned loving a good joke. Do you have a favorite comedian or comedy show?

Ramona Iftode: I’ve mainly watched sitcoms and not standup comedy shows. I love MASH, Third Rock from the Sun, Modern Family etc.

Kevin Malone: What in the tech world really gets on your nerves?

Ramona Iftode: I am pretty sick of people who call themselves ‘specialists’. Well, I’ve been a web designer for almost a decade and still cannot call myself like this. I earn my living from this and yet I just call myself a web designer. If we talk hate, then I’d have a whip especially made for spammers. They are ruining forums and blogs and everything.

Kevin Malone: If you were a flavor of pie, which would you be?

Ramona Iftode: Hmm, difficult question. I think I’d be something with chocolate. I’m almost addicted to this stuff.

Kevin Malone: It is my understanding that Photoshop is your preferred software for graphic design. Are there other programs for graphic design that you you like to use occasionally?

Ramona Iftode: This is the mother of all programs I need. I also love Illustrator and Corel Draw for vector designs, but, since I work as a web designer, Photoshop is what I need.

There is also the following correspondence between me and one of the web designers I mentioned in the interview, Patrick O’Keefe:

Hey Kevin,

I appreciate the mentions and I appreciate the kind words that Ramona offered about me. Whenever I am able to influence someone, or help them grow in some small way, I find that to be highly meaningful and that is one of the most rewarding things that comes from sharing my knowledge and experience with others. Thank you, Ramona.

However, there are a couple of things I want to clarify. My quoted remarks seem to have been used to ask a question that represented a viewpoint I do not have. I did not say that post exchanges were unethical and I did not say that paying for posts was unethical. What I said was that if you have someone (whether it’s you, someone you paid or made a deal with) post on your community and act as multiple people, that is unethical. You are lying to your members when you do that and that is not appropriate.

It’s not about being correct, it is about the respect that you have for your members. If you have someone who posts as a made up persona, we’ll call him Bob, what happens when a member likes Bob or gets used to them posting? That is playing with human emotion and it is a dangerous game to play. Post exchanges, paying for posts, etc. are not unethical. Lying to your members is. As an administrator, you have to set the example and you have to be better than that.

As an aside, I have heard people say before that at least part of whatever success I have achieved comes down to “luck.” That I was “lucky” to register certain domain names or that I was “lucky” to start when I did, as if what I have achieved was handed to me or that it was so incredibly easy that failure was impossible. This is excuse making and is false. I may not have launched any communities in 2011, but the communities I manage, I have run since day 1, from zero, to what they are now and the challenges that new communities have today are the same challenges that existed in previous years and there were plenty of “competitors,” if that is how you choose to look at other communities.

The difference between me, and a lot of others, is that I work harder and I care more. That’s what it comes down to.

Thanks,

Patrick

Patrick—

Hi.

Sorry for misrepresenting you; it was out of confusion rather than deliberate attempt. Looking back to the part of our interview that I partially quoted as part of my question to Miss Iftode, I confused your meaning:

Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t know. I think that short posts and what not are a part of any community. I don’t view them as particularly damaging. There are some things that I view as unethical. For example, post exchanges or paid post arrangements where one person acts as more than one person. I think that’s a bad thing to do. Not only ethically, but because, eventually that person will go away. What happens if another member liked that imaginary person? How do you explain that? You have to have better foresight.

Another thing is, of course, spamming. Whether blatant or subtle, using someone else’s community to build yours is an underhanded tactic that no responsible community administrator should engage in. Treat people how you want to be treated. Unfortunately, I see this all too often

When I read “post exchanges or paid post arrangements where one person acts as more than another,” I was still seeing “things that I view as unethical… post exchanges or paid post arrangements” when the key phrase should have been “where one person acts as more than one person,” which you were stating as a separate thing.

In regards to luck, that reminds me of the saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Thanks for commenting, Patrick, and sorry again.

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