The Toilet Glyph Project

Isn’t it amazing that, no matter in which country you are, you can always tell which door sign marks the bathroom for women and which one marks the bathroom for men? Think about it: you go to a country where you don’t speak the language (maybe they even use a different alphabet), enter in a restaurant where there is no chance you know what you are going to eat… and you can still find your way to the right bathroom.

It might be that we all understand the awkwardness of going into the wrong bathroom (specially if you are in a foreign place) and have developed a global set of symbols that work for everyone.

Or it might work the other way around. Maybe our brain is specially good at reading bathroom signs to avoid the feeling of embarrassment and the funny (sometimes offended) looks from anyone who sees us making the fatal mistake.

I find this fascinating.

Simons (Square One) – Mississauga, Canada.

A post shared by Toilet Glyph Project (@toiletglyphprj) on

Each bathroom sign is an incredible mix of creativity, functionality and social context. From the public and corporate impossible-to-miss icons (think of what you would expect to see at an airport) to full on art pieces; and from inoffensive drawings to obvious sexual references or strong statements about gender equality. From accessible bathrooms to family friendly.

It almost feels like toilet glyphs have now become the universal representation of gender: everyone knows what they mean, even if they have never seen that glyph before or come from a place where the meaning of that symbol is something simply inconceivable.

That’s why last year I started to work in what finally became The Toilet Glyph Project. An Instagram account (that spreads to a Twitter account and a WordPress blog) to collect these signs and think about their meaning -because someone made the choice to put that specific sign on that specific door, and it might be a bigger responsibility than you think.

I hope you have as much fun following @toiletglyphprj as I do finding new signs.


Three lessons from six months at Sysomos

Six months ago I joined the Enterprise Social Media Specialist team at Sysomos. Time flies, and when you work in an industry as fast as social media, and for a company with innovation at its very core, there is something new to learn almost every week. Since I sat at my desk for the first time back in May we have launched a new user interface and bought two companies, to name some milestones.

So, to mark the date and celebrate some wins, here’s a short list with the most interesting things I have learned during this time -other than how big dodgeball is in Canada.

1) Boolean Syntax is your Best Friend

Before coming to Sysomos I was only somewhat familiar with Boolean syntax. I knew it existed, and that you could do some stuff with it in Google.

Now I have discovered the true power of the Boolean logic applied to text search. It’s basically what allows us to make a search as broad or specific as we need. In a way, it’s what gives us the option to add context to keywords to get only relevant results.

Thanks to Boolean syntax we can find all conversations that mention iPhone, Android and Firefox OS; or we can find only conversations from people saying that they are impressed with the quality of the pictures taken with an LG Android device in poor light conditions. Really, it’s that amazing.

2) Managing Expectations is Key Long Term

When it comes to client relations, one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my team is the importance of managing expectations since the very first call.

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand the value of telling people what you can’t do for them, but I find that it’s the foundation of a healthy long-term relationship in which the client knows they can trust you and you know that there won’t be any frustrating surprises. Once the limitations talk is out of the way you can focus on all the amazing things you can do for them.

3) Visual Recognition is Here

As much as I love Boolean syntax there is a catch: it relies on keywords. And while most of the internet is text-based and we can analyze millions of conversations a day that way, the truth is that “today’s conversation is increasingly visual”, to quote one of my bosses.

So when we got the news that Sysomos had acquired GazeMetrix and they showed us what that technology can do, we got understandably excited. Visual recognition is not the next thing, it’s already here.

Instead of searching for the words “coca-cola”, now we can upload Coca-Cola’s logo and find pictures where that logo is present even if there is no text to help us find it. And it’s not just that: we can see if the Coca-Cola logo appears in images where there are hamburgers, or cars, or bottles, or pizza. You get the point.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from Sysomos Gaze is the vast amount of content that flies under the radar simply because we don’t didn’t have the technology to find it. And how all this content can help brands understand things like how people are using their products or what other things they like, do or buy -which communication teams can use to improve their messaging.

What Will be Next?

The best part is that this is just the beginning. Social media platforms keep evolving (just look at the last few weeks at Twitter!) and companies are getting more social-savvy every day, which means there will be a lot more to learn during the next six months. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

The Oscars as seen on Twitter

While we live in the era of digital media, and more specifically the era of social media, it’s undeniable that mass media still have a lot to say. I believe the reason is simple: online conversations wouldn’t happen without things to talk about.

That is what events like the Oscars have been providing for 87 years: conversation topics. The difference is that now we don’t have to throw a party at home or wait until we get to the office or the school the next day to talk about it. We can do it live on Twitter, and not just with the people we know but with the millions of people watching the same thing.

On this cool data visualization from Twitter you can see exactly that: the Oscars led the online conversation, minute by minute. People quickly forgot about the movies that were not being mention on the screen, but kept posting about what they were seeing live.

the oscars on twitter
Same on the embed code won’t work and you don’t get to see the animation. Click on the image to visit Twitter’s site.

How to help a web designer help you

If you need help with a web design project you might probably think that the first thing to do is finding the best freelancers and agencies to see who can do the best job. But if that’s the case you are wrong: the first step is to know what you need and what you want. You can’t just go around asking them to send you a proposal to build a website if you don’t provide enough information about what you are looking for.

The reason? A website can be done in a billion different ways. A Tumblr blog with a default theme can be ready to go in less than 15 minutes and without spending a dime on graphic design or extra functionalities, but that is of no help to you if what you want is an e-commerce site to compete with (which would take a massive investment and quite a few months of work). So here are a few questions you should be ready to answer if you really want to help a web designer help you:

1) What’s the website for?

Easy: the overall goal of your website. If you just want to have a simple page with some information about the company and a contact form, the designer will understand that there is no need to budget for a a system to accept credit card payments. But if you want to sell stuff online he’ll look into different ways to manage your inventory or how to load all the images more efficiently to make the shopping experience better.

You should also think about your specific needs. If you just say that you want an e-commerce site, then a basic Shopify plan could be enough for you. But if you want to show different products to different users, or you need your sales team to access client information that shouldn’t be public, then you have to look into something else. Multilingual sites, receiving payments from different countries, user registration… the list can be as long as you want.

2) How do you want your website to look like?

Plenty of times, when someone approaches a web designer they already know how they want their website to look like. But for some reason they don’t say it. That’s a big mistake. Knowing what you like and the style you are looking for is a great help for the designer. And don’t worry, a good professional will find a polite way to tell you if your idea sucks, if it would be too expensive to build or how you could make it better.

One thing I like to do is ask potential clients to look at the websites of their competitors and list which ones they like and which ones they don’t, and write a few words on why they like/dislike those sites. You can also browse a website theme collection to see what’s the world wide web looking like these days.

3) What’s your budget?

Last but not least, there is no way around sharing your budget. Even if you share your goals and needs, and how you want your website to look like, there always are cheaper and more expensive solutions to the same problem.

For example, the cost of the design depends on two things: how important is for you to have a custom layout and how much can you spend on it. If you don’t need anything special and have a tight budget, you can buy a template from a site like Themeforest, and maybe get a designer to make a few teaks to it. But if you need something unique then you’ll need a bigger budget. The same applies with functionality: you can develop a solution for your specific problem or find an existing one that is not perfect but does the job.