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TechTV Forever Interviews Amber MacArthur, Host of Call for Help and Command-N!

After begging and pleading (actually, she was very happy to help out!) our prayers have been answered and the lovely Amber MacArthur granted us an interview! Amber MacArthur is host of Call for Help [ ], on TV worldwide, started in Canada being produced up there, and now finally back in the United States on G4 Televison, showing at 11AM weekdays Eastern/8AM weekdays Pacific. Set your Tivos! In addition to the busy and rigorous schedule of making a world-wide television show, Amber also hosts and helps produce Command-N, [ ] a weekly video show with incredible popularity distributed over the web about all things technology and technology news and trends both online and offline. Amber’s home on the web is over at [ ], so check it out and don’t forget to bookmark it, she updates all the time!

A little over a month ago we had the opportunity to chat with her sadly ex-cohost Andy Walker [ ], but this time we wanted to ask her a few questions, and boy did she! We wanted to ask her questions about Call for Help’s return to American screens, what life is like on the set, upcoming segments and events on Command-N, and of course about her speciality, webdesign and usability! It was a lot of fun, and we want to thank Amber for taking the time out to answer our questions, again, a TechTV Forever exclusive!


TTVF:How did you react when you learned the news that Call for Help would be on the air in the United States?

AMBER:We were all very, very excited about the sale to the U.S. It opens up a huge market for us and there is something very rewarding about being in three countries (Canada, Australia, and the United States). The nice thing about this “expansion” is that we can still produce the show in Canada and we can continue to maintain editorial control over all our content.

TTVF:Do you get the feeling that Call for Help will change significantly now that it’s back in American markets?

AMBER:I never had the feeling that we would be forced to change any of our content. The only thing we have to mindful of now is that the shows in the U.S. are airing, at least at for the time being, much later than when we shoot them in Canada, so we have to watch our references to new software, new sites, new products, prices, and so on. Other than that, I never anticipated any major adjustments. In short, I’ve always trusted Leo’s commitment to producing quality objective tech content and I know he would never compromise on this.

TTVF:Tell us a bit about your role on Call for Help, for those of us who may never have seen it. Is it fun?

AMBER:My official title is co-producer/co-host. What this means is that I produce (research, write, present) all my own segments (one segment per show and one free download per show). I also present 30 tips each month; Leo and Mikey help me with these tips. I’m planning to do a few gadget roundups each month on Call for Help; Sean Carruthers (one of our tech researchers) helps me out with these segments. Basically we all help each other, no matter how minor or major the task. Is it fun? Yes, it’s a blast! We have a really small team, but we’re all friends and there are constant pranks, laughs, and jokes in the works on a daily basis.

TTVF:Give us some insight into what we might be seeing from you on Call for Help in coming weeks!

AMBER:In the coming weeks I’m going to try to do some field reports, get outside and interview some interesting tech folks and cover some innovative projects. I plan to be at DesignFest (a web design conference in Toronto) and I will be doing my Web Workshop reviews with the help of some web professionals on site at this event. I can’t wait! It looks as though we’ll also be traveling to a few tech events so we can produce some thorough segments.

TTVF:How are things working out with Command-N? It’s an excellent show; are you and Mikey looking at doing this long-term?

AMBER:commandN is an amazing learning experience for all four of us on the team (Jeff, Brian, Mikey, and me). We’ve put out shows regularly for the past 15 weeks and we’ve asked our viewers to come along for the ride as we improve each and every episode. We’re going to continue to do this for as long as we can, and we’re going to continue to try to shoot at a different location each week, include a segment from Jeff in Halifax each week, and encourage Brian to do some more on-camera work (he’s awesome!). We plan to do this long-term, but our plans might differ somewhat from others in this space. We don’t want to ask viewers for money for the show, but instead we’ll focus on eventually getting a sponsor per show or per segment. The idea is not to wrap the entire show with ads, just to cover some of our costs and have a little money on hand to travel as a team to events like NextFest, WebZine 2005, or CES and report from there. We firmly believe that the more eyeballs we get watching commandN the better the chances we have to offer the show for free to anyone with an Internet connection and 22 minutes to learn about what’s new in tech, online and offline.

TTVF:Command-N Is getting pretty popular pretty quickly. About how wide an audience have you guys got? Are you going to keep the show free, oR maybe sell some gear? I’d love the little “command” logo on a t-shirt!

AMBER:Our audience is getting bigger and bigger each week, which is obviously our goal! The interesting thing about video content online is that there are often times when new viewers are going back and downloading old episode to catch up; it’s all on the viewers’ schedule, which is the best thing about producing our show online. You can get it when you want and watch it when you want. As for keeping the show free, that is our plan. We do accept donations and
our new GoDaddy promotion works for us because it fits nicely within the inSITE segment (and we all truly believe GoDaddy is a great service). Our deal with them is that they pay us whenever someone buys a service using the COMMANDN promo code (so if you need domain/hosting services and you use this code, you’ll be supporting us). We’ll also be launching our J!NX shop next week, which is another way viewers can help us out. The biggest help is from our hosting companies (SMUnique, ProGamer, and VizaWeb). Without their support wouldn’t be able to continue because the number of total downloads
now of all episodes is above one million.

TTVF:Do you believe the future of television (or at least technology content and programming) is in IPTV shows like Command-N [ ], DiggNation [ ], and Digital Life TV [ ]?

AMBER:I believe that the future of good technology programming is definitely online, but I don’t think it’s all going to change overnight. There are lots of folks who will continue to watch TV on a television set, so there is no reason to believe that a traditional medium, such as broadcast television, will die altogether. At the end of the day I think it’s all choice. There is an obvious shift insofar as how people are getting information and one of the major trends as of late is that more and more people are spending the bulk of their time online. I am definitely one of these people. I rarely
turn on my TV, but I love good video content and am dying to see more of it available on the Web. I think the most interesting element about commandN, Diggnation, and Digital Life TV that will affect traditional broadcast is not so much that we’re doing anything that differently than other TV shows (aside from distribution), but we are
doing it at a far reduced cost and we’re able to offer our video content to an international audience. There are no boundaries to accessing our shows, which means that for advertisers this is a goldmine. The numbers are huge. This is why we don’t want to force viewers to pay, but instead educate advertisers about this extremely powerful way of attracting a new and limitless audience.

TTVF:If someone is interested in technology journalism, and to do what you do, how would you get them started? What would you suggest they do?

AMBER:I would suggest that anyone who wants to get into technology journalism works in the tech field for some f time. It is also very important to develop a particular area of interest. I’ve been able to stay focused on web businesses, services, and applications, which is an ever-growing industry and the products just keep on getting better. It is also good to start a blog and start writing your own content and networking with others in this area.

TTVF:Any interesting segments coming up on Command-N that you can share with us?

AMBER:As for what’s coming up on commandN, we’re going to be doing more tech product reviews in the future and we’re going to try to schedule some interesting interviews with tech geeks (traditional and untraditional). We’ve even contacted a few actors who also happen to be into tech, so these episodes will definitely draw an even different audience than the one we currently have. We also plan to try to travel with the show, just to keep it fresh and fun. We will also cover what’s new on the web, particularly Web 2.0 biz, and also I’ll be keeping up with my inSITE web segment to help folks make better websites. Among all four of us, we really cover a wide range of all things tech – Mac, Windows, web, audio, video, music, and more.

TTVF:What are some really basic usability tips you would give to amateur webdesigners?

AMBER:I would suggest that anyone building a website tries to keep it as simple as possible. Also, it’s important to know your strengths. If you’re good at laying out information, but you’re not a good designer, then it makes sense to get help on the design front. I would also suggest that all the basics of good usability are covered in Jakob Nielsen’s book Designing Web Usability. Here are some more tips from my website to help get started:
[ ]

TTVF:When you see a site where all the navigation tools are in Macromedia Flash, what’s your first reaction? 😉 [ed. note: this is a joke question with a really good answer. Among web designers, some people see no higher usability and webdesign crime than to design a site’s navigation tools(menus, links, etc) all in a program that requires a user to download another program just to view your site. Flash is common indeed and flash content is usually fine, but flash navigation is something of a taboo! ]

AMBER:The most important thing to keep in mind is to design for your users, so only use technologies that your audience has enabled. I’m also a big fan of simplicity, unless there is a definite reason why spicing up your site makes sense. Sure, Flash is cool but if your visitors (target audience) live in a rural area on dial-up you’ll likely to
only frustrate them.

TTVF:What’s your favorite HTML editor?

AMBER:Dreamweaver is a great tool, definitely my favourite.

TTVF:What new web technologies do you think we’ll be seeing more of in the next few years? (more search capability/tagging a-la

AMBER: Tagging is obviously a popular new way to manage content, which is changing the way we use the Web. I’m also a huge fan of AJAX apps. Here is a list of some of the best: [ p=13 ]
I do believe a lot of people will also move more and more towards web-based applications, so services like Blinksale, Writely, and Basecamp will become increasingly popular.

TTVF:What are a few of your favorite websites, and what sites do you think everyone should have bookmarked?

AMBER: I think I am starting to speak to everyone I know in URLs! In other words, check out [ ] to see some of my favorite sites (listed along the left-hand side). I do love [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ], and [ ]. I’m constantly saving all these sites and more within my Furl feed/site, which is available here: [ ]


Thanks a million Amber!

Again, if you want to know more about Amber, check out her bio over at the Call for Help website: [ ] and visit the Call for Help homepage here: [ ] But that’s not all! If you don’t watch already, head over and check out the first 15 episodes of Command-N at [ ], and check out Amber’s site at [ ] for links, tips, tricks, tech and personal news, and much more!

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