Friday, November 6, 2015

Twitter List Curation

Collecting, then Cleaning up a Twitter List

Two weeks of experimentation using IFTTT to build Twitter lists has been very enlightening. Instructions to build the list and preliminary observations are located here: 

Building Twitter Lists Using IFTTT
Building Twitter Lists Using IFTTT pt 2

I'm not going to repeat the details from those posts, but will try to offer the process that led me to collecting, cleaning and acting up on the new lists. 

Starting the Collection 

The instructions for starting the automated lists are covered in the articles above. After a week, the EDTECH1 list was nearly 3800 members an the MOOC2 list is approaching 590. 

Twitter has a 5000 member limit, which is actually a useful feature as we will discuss below.

Cleaning up the List

After the IFTTT recipe has run for several hours and the Twitter list populates, it becomes very clear that some Tweeps don't belong on the list. A simple rule set can speed the clean-up task.  

Spammers, Eggs and Evil Twins

Twitter has plenty of accounts that churn out spam, or the avian variation of spam. They are easy to spot on a list - more than 3-4 consecutive tweets, time to review their profile. My opinion: there is no need to include the noise. Click the gear next to their profile and remove them from the list - immediately. 

Eggs are also an easy decision. If a user hasn't taken the time to choose an avatar, what are the chances they are contributing good content? I read a profile that said... "26 year old programmer..." Must not be a good programmer if they cannot figure out how to upload a picture. Remove. 

Evil Twins are those those accounts that simply re-tweet everything that another account has posted. Sometimes it is an obvious variation "XYS-Sales" vs "XYX-Marketing", and they may even use a similar color-coded avatar. Other times they have a "male" account and a "female" account, or some other profile-targeted avatar. Take your time to review the primary account, but there is no need for the Evil Twins. 

I left a more difficult decision point off of the chart - Tweeps that post in a foreign language. If the goal is to build a list to collect a community, then language should not exclude content. Maybe I'll create a "French MOOC" list since it seems that MOOCs are really popular with French speakers. 

The "Cleaned" List

The clean-up process, for these three problem account types, reduced my list by almost 10%. But, it still does not represent the "best-of-the-best-of-the-best" (borrowing from Will Smith in "Men in Black"). The Twitte stream is clear, real people (ok, mostly-real people) are providing content. Are you ready for the next step?

Good results require discipline and effort. 

The "Curated List"

The original "EDTECH" list was built by hand. Fully curated, strictly filtered, including only those that Tweet on the topic on a regular basis. It is more valuable that the auto-generated list. The EDTECH2 list does provide two key advantages: low effort and high speed. Here is how to leverage both: 

  • Let the list fully populate - which may be 5000 users, or it may level off at some lower number - like the #MOOC1 list has done at just under 600 users. 
  • Clean the list. 
  • Review the remaining profiles and add them to your "curated" list. View the Subscribers, read their profiles, and move that that make sense.
  • Who "Subscribed" to your list? They are prime targets to add to your curated list. 

If your list does get to 5000, consider culling 50-100 names and letting the list rebuild. This will help identify new voices on your topic.  

The Bottom Line

The initial collection process is a bit rough, but having a specific goal (keywords and hashtags), experimenting with the IFTTT recipes, and having a process to clean up and curate your lists will pay dividends. Plan, Build, Test, Execute, Learn, then start again. 


Monday, November 2, 2015

Building Twitter Lists with IFTTT pt 2

List Curation - The Human Touch. 

Building the Twitter List using IFTTT was the Easy Part

Link to the previous article with How To instructionsBut, what about the results? 

  • List launched 10/30/2015 with 0 members
  • As of 11/2/2015 - Nearly 2096 members

Success? It depends on your definition. 

The Good

The best result is that 27 people subscribed to the list. 

These are people that are looking at the description, and decide to opt-in and follow the list. Tip: make sure that you include a description that entices the correct audience.

Collecting more than 2000 members in about three days, with minimal intervention is an amazing success. And, I was able to turn off the IFTTT recipes so that the list does not continue grow out of control. 

The Bad

My original list (EDTECH) was manually curated and contains less than 250 members. Building the original list was slow, tedious... nearly painful. But, it is much more targeted, much more specific to the user that I want to track. In fact, I went to EDTECH2 and started pulling members into EDTECH just to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

The Ugly

You know those people on Twitter that search out hashtags to leverage for self-promotion -- like US Trenders that promise re-tweets? Yes, they get collected here as well. 

When I first reviewed the Tweets from this list several of the worst offenders popped-right up. Dozens of mostly-worthless posts. I immediately removed them from the list, hoping that they have moved on to other hashtags. 

How to remove: 

  • Open your list and click on List Members
  • Click the gear icon next to the profile
  • Click on Add or Remove from Lists
  • Uncheck the box
Remember - this is not the same as Blocking. Since the lists are Public, you lose a bit of control on members and their posts. 

The Bottom Line

Managing the list (sorting and editing) is still time consuming.  But building lists via IFTTT works very well under these circumstances: 
  1. Your hashtag or search term is very specific
  2. Your hashtag or search term is tied to an event with a very short time horizon - like a conference that uses a specific hashtag, or a specific sporting event
  3. Your list is simply a "list" so you can follow more than 2000 people - with the advantage of a topic or theme

What I would do differently: 
  • Create a separate list for each recipe (each term would get a separate list) - to improve the time needed to filter the members.
  • Watch the lists to see which Tweeps and which hashtags are the most beneficial. For example, the #GoOpen tag relates to a different theme than #MOOC. One might be more valuable than the other.
  • Manage each list to collect the best members to a list with a similar name and description. 
  • Manage the recipes to make this cool process even better. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Building Twitter Lists with IFTTT

Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal. ~ Lionel Trilling

Of course, I lost the name of the blogger or Tweep that posted this idea. If I find it (or, if you find me first) - I'll update this post. 

The idea: Use an IFTTT (If This, Then That) recipe to populate a list in Twitter.  

If you have setup a Twitter list and have enabled IFTTT to connect to Twitter, here are the instructions: 

  • Click Create New Recipe Button 
  • Click "This"
  • Search "Channel" for Twitter and click (graphic is above) 
  • Click the "New Tweet from Search" 
  • Enter your search term - a specific #hashtag for example (graphic below) 
  • Enter your Twitter list name
  • Save the recipe (and then wait a few minutes for it to run)  

First Try - List Name Failure 

I tried to point the Recipe to an existing list in Twitter. This didn't work. A new list, duplicating the name of an existing list, was created. I'm sure Twitter has some data element other than "List Name" that they use in the background to keep lists with similar names separate.  

Resolution: I created a new list (EDTECH2) in Twitter and edited the IFTTT recipe to point to the new list. 

Getting Complicated - Complex Query - Fail

It took about 5 minutes for the job to run and for results to show up in Twitter. After I confirmed that the first recipe as working, I tried to get fancy. I tried to set the search criteria as "#EDTECH" or "#MOOC" or "#GoOpen". The logic seemed correct, but the process was not adding results to the list. 

Resolution: One recipe per hashtag. Or, spend some time learning Twitter query structure.  

Best Tips

  • Build: Create a very simple recipe and let it run. 
  • Validate: Check the results - not just that you are adding members to the list, but that the results are appropriate. IS your hashtag too narrow, or too wide? 
  • Improve: Add a second recipe and point it to the same list. After the first #EDTECH hashtag was validated, I added two more. 
  • Scale: The Twitter list EDTECH2 started yielding results - growing from 0 to 95 members in about 30 minutes. I reviewed the list to see if any other hashtags were common. Yes, #EdChat was common. So I went back to IFTTT and added another recipe. 
  • Read and Cleanse: After the list populates, scan the Twitter feed. Some Tweeps will show up only once, others may show up too many times. You can manage your lists to keep your list lean, mean, and on topic. (Open the list of members and use the gear icon to reach the menu.)  

Interesting Observations - Librarians & Texans

I have my own list of Librarians and follow a couple others. Hey, I have a BA History, so I have serious respect for Librarians. But Librarians don't seem to congregate around any particular hashtag. So this strategy needs a bit more work to help discover where librarians are Tweeting. I probably can't use this technique to add to my "Texas" list, since there is no clear Hashtag to identify people that live in Texas. 

I created the list EDTECH by hand over several weeks.
EDTECH2 is automated, 179 members in 4 hours!

Again, I'm still looking for the source for this idea. Mea Culpa.  


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Windows 10 Apps

Windows 10 - Post Upgrade Application Notes

Almost a week has passed since my first PC was upgraded with Windows 10. Whenever a device is upgraded I spend some time on new settings, configuring apps (mostly password and permissions) and culling out any older apps. The Windows 10 upgrade from Windows 8 was easy, with a single exception -- see the: Windows 10 Upgrade article.  This post will cover impressions of the base applications and general User Experience.

Disclaimer, Because: Lawyers 

Since 2007 I have worked at both Dell and Microsoft. I do not build PCs, nor do I develop operating systems. The views in this post are mine. I have not been compensated for my opinion, but will gladly accept piles of cash once my post is up. (FAQ).

Quick Grades of Windows 10 Applications


Edge Browser

The Windows 10 design mantra is "flat". Digital Trends gives a great overview in their Technical Preview's New Design. Applications should look and feel the same on any device and the Edge browser certainly demonstrates flat. Users of the old Firefox browser might feel right at home. 

I use IE11 at work, so the jump backwards(?) is still growing on me. Edge is fast, but compatibility is a question - especially for users in work environments. My IE11 doesn't work with many corporate apps, so I suspect Edge will need a bit of tweaking. SoftPedia covers the topic: Microsoft Edge Compatibility Warnings. The upgrade does not remove IE from your system.

The absence of Extensions is almost nice. Edge rendered PDF files and XML file quickly and easily. I really (terribly) miss my LastPass extension. I'm reluctant to store passwords in Windows, so the inability to load the LastPass extension makes me do gymnastics to login to sites. 


Cortana is enabled right in the Start Menu. Voice recognition for search is really very good. The collection/assortment of search results, via Bing, is solid. Cortana was so good it made me review the Firefly app on my Amazon phone. Also of note, the Search feature looks at Apps, Files on your local device and the web. So, brush up on your Search syntax for best results.

Firefly was able to listen to 4-5 seconds of a song, recognize the song and album and return the details with a link to purchase the album. Microsoft has not really closed the sales loop with Amazon effectiveness. Expect more work in this area.

Start Menu, Tray and Notifications

The return of the Start Menu is worth the price of the upgrade. OK, the upgrade as free, but I would have paid money to get this feature. The Start Menu and Task trays make up the best part of Windows 10. Search and Cortana are readily available. The Settings menu can be reached from several different locations, and a Notifications icon brings phone and table features onto the desktop.

Some tap actions are still a bit tricky - requiring multiple attempts. My big fingers need a bit more precision to work the Calculator app in desktop mode. Be careful about trying to close an app by swiping down from the top of the screen... it is easy to throw the window below the task bar. 

If you used ALT-Tab to switch between apps, Windows 10 adds an icon to the task tray to provide this feature. Tap, and open apps will tile on the screen for you to jump between apps.

eMail App 

The eMail app has not impressed me. It does have easy setup for multiple accounts. I setup Outlook mail and Google mail and was able to connect and download messages. But it has extra taps to switch between accounts (click on Menu, then Accounts, then the email account). Ugh. Someone need to rethink the extra steps. The eMail app has a link to the Calendar app, but no direct link to People / Contacts. Sure, it has an icon that looks like a head/shoulders, but it takes you to a feedback window. Again, the User Experience misses by a fraction. 


I am a very long time OneNote user, and have to say that the Windows 10 version is hideous in the new Flat layout. It was so hideous that I deleted it immediately and reinstalled the full OneNote client. Other Win10 features and functions need me to adjust a bit... but I spend a lot of time in OneNote, and the Windows 10 version did not work for me. 

Reading List (App)

The Reading List should be a beautiful, simple app. When visiting a web page you can click the STAR icon to save to Favorites or to Reading list. Imagine, spending your day surfing, discovering new sites, saving full pages of info into categories for offline reading, syncing the list across your devices. Amazing! But, not really. Only works with the Metro version of Internet Explorer, and not with Edge. I'll continue using Feedly and Favorites, and "Send to OneNote", but hope this app gets some love.

Windows 10 Functionality - Quick Hits

Using Split Screen with Twitter makes staying in the Twitter stream easy. Dock Twitter to the left, Edge to the right, then links that are clicked in Twitter will appear on the right. You don;t lose you place in the Twitter stream. Nice. 

Touch icons/elements - some require more than one attempt to invoke. Designers will catch up. In the meantime, those crappy pop-up ads that were hard to close in Win7 and Win8, are still hard to close. 

Keyboard focus is still not perfect. You will often have to call the keyboard by double/triple tap into a field, or invoking from the tray. It even happens at the login screen, so I'm blaming the OS and not the apps. Hiding the keyboard is also more obvious.

No SWYPE keyboard - I've caught myself trying to Swype more than once. At least the predictive speller is more consistent in Windows 10. 

Lack of DVD Support seems to make sense since the desktop or tower PC is dead (Note to Microsoft: the desktop form factor is not dead yet). If you are going to dump the DVD, then provide a full set of drivers for other video file types. Some video formats fail to play in Windows 10. Media conversion apps and work arounds are already on the web.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Windows 10

Windows 10 Upgrade - Surprisingly Simple

Over the past two weeks I upgraded several desktops, laptops, even a Windows tablet to Windows 10.  Easy, with a couple of small exceptions. This is a review of the install process on equipment that ranges from an 8 year old desktop that refuses to die, to a brand new Inspiron 3000 two-in-one.
Dell Inspiron 11 2-In-1, even more amazing after upgrade.


Disclaimer, because: lawyers.

Since 2007 I have worked at both Dell and Microsoft. I do not build PCs, nor do I develop operating systems. The views in this post are mine. I have not been compensated for my opinion, but will gladly accept piles of cash once my post is up. (FAQ).


Equipment List

  • Dell Dimension E521 (Windows 7)
  • Dell Studio Slim (Windows 8.1)
  • Dell XPS 420 (Windows 8.1)
  • Dell Inspiron 15 (Windows 8.1)
  • Dell Inspiron 11 2-in1 (Windows 8.1, touch and keyboard)
  • Dell Venue Tablet (32GB, Windows 8.1, touch)


The Good

The Inspirons, Studio and XPS all upgraded without issue. Other than a bit of time to complete downloads, apply the changes and reboot a few times, the entire experience was really good. The most important tip from these devices: Login as ADMIN to make upgrades and do any clean up work. I tried to clean up my son's computer from his account and had to re-enter ADMIN credentials over-and-over while purging old software. All user profiles, files and apps carry-over without issue.


The Bad

As part of the upgrade process, Microsoft checks the system hardware to make sure it is compatible. The Dell E521 (ship date: 5/2007) had an incompatible video card. So the decision is: buy a new video card (about $40 from Amazon) for an eight year old PC, or, leave it as Windows 7. So, I consulted an expert (my 12 year old daughter). "Dad, I don't need an upgrade". OK, settled. A (substantially better) replacement would cost under $400. 

Without straying too far from the topic: the new Edge browser is not my favorite, and no integrated DVD support... I guess the DVD is really dead.


The Ugly 

Dell Venue - Plan your upgrade.

Ever notice how TV screen and hard disk drives are rounded up to a standard specification? The HDD in the Dell Venue was just slightly too small to allow Windows 10 to install (it needs a little over 5GB). So, pulled all photos, music and docs. Pulled all unessential apps. Pulled several essential apps. Uninstalled MS Office (which took a long time to install, ugh). Finally, enough room to upgrade. The processing speed, and maybe the speed across my Wi-Fi, and lack of space on the HDD, caused this upgrade to take over-night (just under 10 hours). All of the other devices were about an hour from "Upgrade" to "Configure Your Settings". 

Then, More Ugly...

When the upgrade was complete, I wanted to add some of my apps back to the Venue. Nope, no space. A perfectly good (actually, really good) tablet with no apps. Opened Control panel and went to clean up temporary files. Then, found the answer. 


Most Important Tablet Tip - Purge the Win8 Backup

Microsoft kept a copy of the Win8 OS on my Venue tablet. This would allow me to revert to Windows 8. I liked Windows 8 (Win 8.1), but the rest of my family didn't like it (is hate too strong a word?). I made sure the OS installed properly - changed a variety of settings, tried some of the new features, then clicked "Delete". 

Purging the backup OS, and the temp files, relieved nearly 7 GB of space. Plenty of room for a few apps (MS Office was reinstalled) and a few files, but not enough room for movies or videos. Streaming is the only option for the Venue, and I made sure to setup SkyDrive on the Venue. 


Bottom Line

Easy upgrade, unless drive space is tight, or the device is really old. Everyone likes the upgrade - yes, I'm totally shocked. The Inspiron 2-in-1 is amazing with Windows 10, highlighting the significant bridge built between the keyboard-mouse and touch experience.


Super Bonus Tip

Almost every application (App) will need to be updated after the Windows 10 install. I noticed that each shows a Current Date in the Control Panel - Applications module. Finish the Windows 10 update, then run Windows Update, or go to the Store, a couple hours later to refresh all of your Apps.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Feedly and OneNote

Collecting Content Ideas - Feedly and OneNote

Feedly became my blog  consolidation tool of choice when Google Reader shut down in 2013. If you are still looking for a good alternative, see the LifeHacker post "Five Best Google ReaderAlternatives". Feedly allows me to track and read 132 different blogs. Blogs are organized into categories and each morning I get a count of fresh articles.

I collect ideas as small as a sentence, up to entire articles. OneNote is critical to my workflow, but it does not work with Feedly the way that you might expect.

Here is how to collect ideas leveraging Feedly and OneNote. 

Categories become Hashtags on Twitter

OneNote 101: Copy and Paste

PRO: Open an article on Feedly, select the text your want, right-click to copy, then move to OneNote and right-click to paste. The quick and easy method to capture ideas. The text is searchable and OneNote provides the URL pointing to the Feedly subscription.

Sample Text Snip: 

One of the best things about having a WordPress site is the ability to customize and enhance it using plugins. That is why I wanted to share some of my top picks for plugins for small business owners. I did this last year as well in my post, Top 21 WordPress Plugin Picks for 2014, […]

CON: Quick and Easy usually means something is missing. The URL (highlighted above) points to the Feedly subscription, not to the source article. If you collect notes and post on the same day this may not be an issue. But wait a few days, or mark the article as "read" and the link will not take you to the article. You will have to spend time searching for the information. OneNote provided a link to Feedly (correct functionality), but what you really want is a link to the source.

Quick Tip: Scroll to the bottom of the page in Feedly and click  "Visit Website" then copy and paste from the original source.


Feedly - Three Alternatives to Save and Share Content
+ 1 Bonus (IFTTT)

Option 1 - Save For Later

When reading an article Feedly has a small icon that will add a simple flag to indicate "Saved For Later". You can see all of your Saved For Later articles by clicking the menu link in the left navigation. In the All Content view the flag shows up in the first column. When you click the "All" menu item, Feedly returns the list of unread items, or if everything is read, returns the list of all articles - newest items at the top of the list. Flags work for quick and easy collection. 

Option 2 - OneNote Integration

CON: This function does not work for me (OneNote 2013, on a corporate network), and it requires a subscription. When you click the OneNote icon, Feedly will save your article directly to your notebook. I'll provide a free alternative below as a bonus.


Option 3 - Social Sharing

PRO: Several other sharing options live under the overflow menu (three vertical dots) on the far right. Select your favorite tools and they will appear under the menu. Sharing an entire article in your favorite social media channel is simple.

In the image above you can see an email icon and a the Twitter icon. When the email icon is clicked your email client is triggered and you can add contacts to the To: line. You can edit the Subject and the body, and Twitter inserts a link to the article.

When the Twitter icon is clicked Feedly creates a pop-up window with the title of the article, the URL, and if you chose it on the Preferences page, a hashtag based on the name of your grouping. You can edit prior to sending. 

Select your favorites, they are added to the Menu above Feedly articles.
(Click for larger image)

CON: Certain pop-up functionality may be blocked on a corporate network. For example, I cannot access external email accounts (, Gmail, etc), so the email feature cannot be used when I am at work. 


Option 4  - Bonus - If This, Then, That (IFTTT) Recipe

I hate paying for simple integration tools (like the OneNote link in Feedly). If This Then That (IFTTT) lets you design simple "Recipes" to perform these tasks. Plenty of pre-scripted recipes are available for Evernote, Google Docs, Gmail, Buffer… If you can’t find one you like, build your own!

My recipe takes any Feedly article that I mark "Saved for Later" and creates a new page in a OneNote notebook that I keep online. The Body of the recipe can be customized from a pick list. I capture ArticleTitle, ArticleURL, ArticleContent etc. and everything is stored in date order in my notebook.


Bottom Line

Feedly is my tool for managing blog subscriptions. Ideas enter the top of my workflow and are stored in OneNote. OneNote allows me to sort, tag, and recombine ideas for my blog. I can create content, provide proof from experts, and make proper attribution at the same time. Knowing how OneNote works with Feedly, and knowing a few alternatives to improve idea collection will make your workflow powerful.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

OneNote and Excel

Microsoft OneNote and Excel Tables

Yes, they know each other, but they are not really friends. 

While using OneNote to track my blog information I ran into a simple problem. The table that I was using grew just a bit too large. I wanted to track simple things: page name, permalink, whether the format was updated (titles and font sizes were messed up on older posts), and the topic of the post. Just a few columns multiplied by a couple hundred lines... 

Of course, Excel would handle the job with ease, so I went to the Insert tab in the ribbon, clicked on spreadsheet, then New Excel Spreadsheet and BOOM! a very nice link and table is inserted into my OneNote page. 

The only issue - it doesn't work very well.

Excel in MS Word

If you insert a spreadsheet into Word 2013 you get a very nice Excel table - with a great deal of Excel functionality. On the Insert menu click Insert Object, Create New, then select Microsoft Excel Worksheet.  Once you have finished your data entry, click outside of the Excel object and the table drops into your document. Save, re-open, click to edit... it all appears to work. 

Excel in OneNote (Click for larger view)

The OneNote Experience 

OneNote has a mouse-over in the top left cover of the table to allow you to edit the spreadsheet. Click the edit button, Excel opens. Add data to the table, save and close, and the table refreshes in OneNote - simple and easy. Did you notice that the table is now an image and is not editable? Did you notice that the hyperlinks are not functional?  

Click the edit button again to make updates, Excel opens... make your updates save and close the file. Then something else happens. 

Filename: Link to OneNoteSample8.xlxs

Rather than opening up the same file, or opening an embedded version of the file like MS Word, it opens Excel, and inserts a copy of the table. You can edit Excel as needed, then save and close and OneNote will update the table. But, now you have two Excel files on your PC. The first file will not reflect updates made in the second file, nor will the second reflect changes made in the third. 

One Way Street

Open the Excel spreadsheet first, make edits, then save and close. Go back to OneNote and... nothing. The changes do not carry back from Excel to OneNote. Let's say you we keeping scores for a bowling league and had an Excel spreadsheet posted in a shared location. Users could make edits, but you could never really pull that information into OneNote. Of course, you could Open Existing Spreadsheet, but now you have multiple OneNote pages with similar information. This really is not an issue in MS Word, because the table is embedded in the document - so you can only edit in one place. 

Filename: OneNoteSample9 (ugh). 

The Solution 

Usually I try to offer a solution, or a simple work-around. This problem doesn't seem to have a good method. 

Excel provides method to query a source file and refresh the data as needed - you can keep a working copy on your desk and the source can remain in the cloud at a shared location. It does take a couple of clicks to update, but the process makes sense. OneNote seems to get about 60% of the way to that solution. 

The Recommendation

An integrated toolset would be great, but leveraging Excel from inside of OneNote really doesn't work. Build your complex tables in Excel and enjoy all of the functionality that it brings. Then you will need to resort to the old school method of Linking to the file (Select some text, on the Insert tab click Link, then navigate to the file in Explorer and click OK). 

If the source file moves, the link breaks, but at least there is only one Excel file, only one source of truth, and the hyperlinks work!


Friday, May 15, 2015

OneNote Image as Background

OneNote - Image as Background

My online class had a very simple assignment: use their template, provided in PDF format, to create a Strategic Execution Map using a Wall Based Process. You know, the standard "let's whiteboard / sticky-note this solution" process. It works for any brainstorming or ideation or process flow review session where a group needs to create, sort, group, re-sort, re-group ideas (or requirements, or process steps, or...).

I could have marked up a collection of self-stick wall pads with Post-It notes, then taken a photograph of each, then inserted the photo into OneNote, but I wanted a short-cut. (My God Jim, I'm just a country-doctor".)

Why Set an Image as Background

Pictures and color are powerful. Plain white pages, not so much. By setting a image as background you can:  
  • Set mood via color, or image
  • Set branding - set a logo or a key visual element on every page
  • Create Visual maps - adding notes and links right on top of the image
This works in OneNote because containers "float" on top of the background image. So here are the steps - and a couple of variations to make it work:
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background" 
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Online Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK 
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background"  
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. Click on an image in your web browser
  3. Right click and select Copy, then return to OneNote and right-click and select Paste. The picture from the internet will also insert the source URL.
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background" 

Nope, it doesn't work.  None of them. Total #Fail.

Right-Click Menu - Command is Missing (Fail!)

Do you see the outline of the container in the picture above, just inside of the resize handles? (Click to enlarge the graphic for a better view). Collecting images this way works great, but step #4 breaks.

In all three processes above, OneNote creates a container and inserts the image - which seems totally logical. (Remember this is a Microsoft product, so features and benefits usually cut two ways.)

Key Trick: The Image Cannot be Inside a Container

New and Improved Instructions:
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK
  4. Right-Click on the image (inside the container) and select Cut
  5. Move your cursor outside of any/all containers (choose a empty portion of the page) and click Paste
  6. Size and Position the image as needed
  7. Right-Click on the image and select Set Picture as Background

Set as Background command. Success!

Notice in the screen clip above that the container frame is missing. Now your image is fixed to the page, and you can create containers right on top of the background. Insert text, draw lines, highlight key elements, the background stays in place. Some may want to use Visio or PowerPoint functionality, but the learning curve and the overlay rules are a bit tedious.

Fancy Tip

Add a small image onto your background (a circle, diamond, or number) in a regular container. Then Click the Link command in the Link category on the ribbon. Add a URL, but no text. The small image is now a hyperlink.

If you were teaching anatomy, you could put the human body as a background, add numbers 1 through 10, creating hyperlinks to definitions, audio-visual, multimedia, etc.  Sorry, no graphic here, but you can mouse-over the hyperlink to test this Fancy Tip.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

PowerPoint Bonus Tip (Feature or Bug?)

You can also set PowerPoint Slides as a background image:
  1. Add a page to a section
  2. From the Files category, click File Printout
  3. Navigate to the PowerPoint you want to insert and click Insert
  4. Size and Position the slide(s) as needed
  5. Right click and select Set Picture as Background (Repeat for additional slides)

Yes, in all of the magnificent brilliance of design, this instruction set will print your PowerPoint deck into OneNote (I swear they look like they are in containers) and then let you right-click and set each slide as a background image. (Author: Rubs eyes, mutters quiet condemnation , left eye starts twitching).

Have you ever wanted to take notes right on top of a PPT presentation? There you go. 

Bottom Line

Whether you want to set a background color via templates, or add an image or logo, or PowerPoint presentation as a background, OneNote can do it. Don't think about the logic, just give it a try and start layering your notes on top of your custom background.


Layout and colors provided in PDF
Text containers layered in OneNote