Category Archives: Weblogs

On the Importance of Blogging

John Robinson blogs about teaching his students the important of blogging which I, of course, found blog-worthy:

It was only natural that I would require the 36 students in my “Current Issues in Mass Media” class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill blog for the class. Most of the students were in the journalism and mass communication school. Many majored in journalism or advertising or public relations. And most of them drew back with alarm when I told them I expected them to blog about mass comm issues three times a week. That was a minimum, which would get them a C.

I wanted them to learn to think and write in public. They need that skill. They could learn from each other’s  blogs because I curated their posts on this RebelMouse site. The idea was that they would read each other’s reflections on mass communication and engage with someone other than me. Best of all, by forcing them to search out topics worth writing about, they were keeping up with trends in mass communication.

I wanted them to find their voice.

My advice was simple: I told them the same thing Ed Cone told me when I started blogging 10 years ago – “Have a take and don’t suck.”

FYI, Ed’s advice is good beyond the blogging world too. John goes on to share some of his students’ thoughts on what they learned in the process and it’s definitely worth a read.

End of an Era

I’ve been writing this blog for almost ten years and that entire time it’s been hosted on Typepad. I’d been bugged by at least one friend (Dan) to switch over to WordPress for years, but I’d resisted because it seemed like too much of a hassle. About a year ago I tried to convert but the process didn’t work and I didn’t have time to figure out why.

Last week Typepad experienced a hack-attack and their service went down for days. Considering I had over 3,000 posts that I suddenly couldn’t access – I had some backups but they weren’t real current – I was anxious to get back on their system and generate a current backup. A couple of days ago they came back online and I did get a backup downloaded in minutes. At that point I tried one more time to import all of my posts into WordPress and this time it worked, so I quickly went to my registrar and changed my domain name and pointed it to my little navel-gazing project’s new home.

Other motivators for getting off of Typepad and on to WordPress included:

  • I write regularly for a work blog hosted on WordPress and having just one tool for my writing seemed to make more sense.
  • Saving some bucks since I was paying a monthly fee for Typepad and I could get better functionality on WordPress without the monthly fee.
  • There are more developers on WordPress which means a lot more “stuff” to play with in terms of tools, templates, etc.
  • Typepad was really slow to adapt to the changing social media environment and WordPress tools seem superior for posting from a mobile platform. I’m still not sure about that because I haven’t used it much, but that’s my impression.

This isn’t intended to slam Typepad; it’s a great tool that has served me well but it was time to move on and begin a new era of over sharing.

Well Duh

Sometimes you just have to be slapped upside the head to have some sense driven into you. I was catching up on some reading and came across this piece from Sasha Dichter and these words struck a chord with me:

In today’s world we all are continually experimenting with the lines between connection / productivity / responsiveness and distraction / rudeness.  Two colleagues of mine suggested the following four rules for managing incoming email and handheld devices, which I liked:

  1. Turn off desktop alerts of new emails coming in (the little box that pops up)  (in Outlook: File > Options > Mail > Message Arrival > Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert”)
  2. No reading email before breakfast
  3. No reading email while in transit
  4. No phone or email in the bedroom

My own scorecard is as follows:

  1. I turned of desktop alerts for new emails about a month ago and I love it.
  2. I almost never read email before breakfast and when I do it’s a sign that I’m under a crazy deadline or stressed for some other reason.
  3. Hmmm.  I made a rule a couple of years ago not to look at my phone while in elevators, and I’ve stuck to that (it had become a reflex), but I spend enough time in transit that I don’t know that I can commit to this one.
  4. I do have my phone in the bedroom but I can honestly say it’s 95% as a time-piece and alarm

In reality these four rules are a really low bar.  Increasingly I think we will all be playing with the limits and rules that work for us, and everyone’s line will be different.  What makes me nervous is when I get reflexive about checking.  That sort of unconscious behavior feels unproductive. (Emphasis mine)

My wife has flat out told me it annoys her how much I check my phone. At the table, when we go to bed, etc. and today when I was checking out at a store I realized I was checking my phone even before the clerk was saying thank you. In other words I'm being exceptionally rude to the people around me, and what bothers me most is I'm certain I'm missing signifcant chunks of conversation with my family. My kids are only a few years from flying the coop permanently – two of them are already in college – so this is just crazy behavior. Do I seriously want to waste the limited days they're still under my roof with my nose stuck in my phone? Obviously not.

For some reason it took reading a stranger's blog to bring me to that "Well, duh" conclusion. I plan on using some of his rules augmented with some of my own to do better.

 

The Bikeshed Effect

Over at the Atlantic Wire they ask the question, "Why do we care about things that don't really matter?" Here's one reason:

The Bikeshed Effect, more formally known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality derived from the humor book Parkinson's Law, is "the principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic," as explained in Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The most classic and titular example is that people care more about the color of a bike shed than the decision to build a nuclear plant because they know about colors and don't know about nuclear power.

As they go on to point out the effect influences what we talk about and thus what generates "discussion" in our modern world:

Since everyone needs to say something — especially on the Internet — these mundane things get talked about often and with vigor. Meanwhile, the more complex questions — like "How Will Yahoo Increase CPM's Given Current Trends in Digital Advertising?" — get much less attention because most people can't comment with any intelligence, as The Guardian's Oliver Burkman explained in his column "Why trivia is so important" back in 2010. "Each wants to demonstrate, to the boss or to themselves, that they are taking part, paying attention, making a difference, 'adding value,'" he wrote. "But with complex subjects about which they're ignorant, they can't: they risk humiliation."

The dumbest topics — the tilt of an exclamation point, for example — therefore, get the most attention. A related phenomenon happens a lot in the work-life balance debate, which relies a lot on personal anecdotes to talk about an important societal question. Without much knowledge or data on women in the workforce, writers and thinkers revert to their personal experiences to fuel the debate. Since these people are women and have worked and have also had children, they can speak to the issue with some intelligence. That leaves harder questions, like how most women can improve working while raising families, on the sidelines. 

People have always been trivial, ill-informed bloviators but now thanks to the online extensions of our society the effect is amplified. Rather than only being exposed only to the nimrods in your circle of friends, family, coworkers and neighbors your exposed to the hundreds of millions of nimrods you can find online. What a truly depressing thought.

On Publishing

Dana Blankenhorn has an excellent post on the demise of newspapers as we've known them and the future of publishing in general. Here's the money quote:

Your job, as a publisher, remains what it was in the 19th century. Define a market, aggregate both the buyers and sellers, and stimulate financial transactions between them. Publishing is a market-making proposition, and those who create the best marketplaces win. Every time.

These are still the early innings of the online publishing game. The collapse of newspapers is a gift from above, not a plague. It opens up vast new opportunities for people who have learned their business, publishers and editors both.

 

Push Button Publishing

Here's a very cool little piece at Wired showing how Blogger spawned a lot of the current "push button publishing" services we know today:

At the close of 1998, there were 23 known weblogs on the Internet. A year later there were tens of thousands. What changed? Pyra Labs launched Blogger, the online tool that gave push-button publishing to the people. It was a revolutionary web product made by a revolutionary web of people who went on to build much of the modern net. Here’s how Pyra propagated.

The "family tree" you find when you click through to Wired does a great job showing how the people behind blogger went on to create/influence Twitter, Square, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc.

The Blogfather

Ed Cone was blogging before "blogger" became a pejorative. The Greensboro dead tree product carries a story about his decision to quit the blogging scene.

From his office three floors above South Elm Street — where he has an action figure perched on his window and a framed handwritten response from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson on his wall — Ed wrote about it on Word Up.

Will it return? Who knows? Ed doesn’t. But there is this story I heard once about Ed’s great-grandfather, about how he used to row out to the middle of a lake in Maine and sit.

I ask Ed about it. He tells me he understands it now. It’s that need for quiet, for some contemplation. That’s what Ed is doing. For now.