A New Year Brings New Opportunities

In 2005, I started working at the American Printing House for the Blind as the Expert Database Coordinator. My job was to write articles for an online database called Fred's Head.

The Fred's Head Database was named after APH's Product Support Specialist Fred Gissoni. Fred is blind and has worked in the blindness field for many decades. The idea behind Fred's Head was to collect and make available the tips and resources that Fred had in his head and make them available to anyone via the APH website.

The software was originally designed for Louis, a searchable database of books that are available in accessible formats. The database was modified to house the Fred's Head articles, but it had a weakness. Because a user created an invisible login when they visited the site, all articles in the database were invisible to internet search engines like Google as well.

I remember my first few days of working in the database. Articles had to be constantly checked for accuracy and where possible, I was able to add my own experience as a blind person. As I read the information in the database, I began to realize just how useful Fred's Head could be, if only people could find it.

Blogs were gaining popularity at the time and I created an account on Blogger.com. I asked my supervisor, Scott Blome, if I could begin a process of copying each article in the original database onto the blog. It would be a companion of sorts to the original database and we could see which one received the most hits. Scott was all for the idea and for many months, I copied each article from the database and put them in, what we eventually called the Fred's Head Companion.

Our guess was right. Before too long, the Fred's Head Companion was being crawled by Google and other internet search engines and people were finding the articles. Eventually, Google would purchase Blogger and make our articles even easier to find. By adding an RSS feed and an email newsletter, we continued to increase the blog's readership.

The next thing we added to Fred's Head were the products in the APH catalog. Each product was entered in both the original database and on the Companion blog. Our online shopping site was very basic at that time, so it was very important to take advantage of this new medium to get our product information to readers of the blog and to the search engines.

The Louis Database was being prepared for a major update. New software was being developed to store the thousands of entries and we began talking a completely new shopping site for our products. As talks continued, it was decided that the original Fred's Head database was no longer needed. The Companion was getting so many more hits than the original database and when Louis moved, we had no further need to use the software that was originally running both databases.

The Fred's Head Companion soon transitioned into the Fred's Head from APH blog and my position here at APH received a new name, Fred's Head Coordinator.

When Twitter began taking the internet by storm, APH was quick to expand the reach of Fred's Head onto this new platform. The @FredsHead account would be used to tweet articles from the blog and to retweet articles from others in the blindness field. I developed techniques that would search the internet for terms like blindness, dog guides, low vision, and tweet those results to myself through a special account. I still use this system and tweet news articles that I find about blindness. Because we had started putting each APH product into the blog, it was also tweeted on the @FredsHead account and people began following us.

More recently, APH has created a page on Facebook and on YouTube. I was asked to watch over these pages and my title changed again to Social Media Coordinator.

It's rare that a person gets to follow a legend. I have known about Fred Gissoni for many years! When I was given the position to manage Fred's Head, I was so proud. Now, I'm happy to announce that I will get another opportunity to follow Fred.

At the end of the year, Fred Gissoni will retire from APH. I have accepted his position and will soon become the Product Support Specialist, effective January 3, 2012. This again, is a real honor for me. I guess I'll be going from the brainwaves of Fred's Head to the voice of Fred. Those are some big shoes to fill!

Saying goodbye to Fred's Head is a very difficult thing for me. I have made so many friends while in this position. The people in the APH Communication Department at APH have been wonderful. I will miss working directly with them. I have good friends in the Field Services and Public Affairs departments that I will miss seeing everyday. Although I will still have opportunities to work with these individuals, the daily interactions I will certainly miss.

You, the online community are going to be missed as well. For years, I have been able to ask questions of you and you've answered me. In many cases, the answers you've given have fueled a Fred's Head article or two. Some of you have even written articles for Fred's Head and I thank you so much for those.

The time has come for someone new to sit in my chair too. I hope the next person who writes articles for Fred's Head takes care to continue what we've started here. I'll be around to assist the new person and offer some advice where necessary. I still want to write up an article or two on occasion. I'll be sure to post the job announcement when it's ready.

I look forward to talking with some of you in the coming year. Please feel free to call and ask questions about your APH purchases. I don't really like saying goodbye, so let's just say that our communication will continue, over the phone instead of over the internet. If you are interested, I do have a personal Twitter account @mbmccarty and I'd be happy to connect with you there. You can also find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mbmccarty.

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