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March 10, 2014

31-3.7 Bursting bubbles, and getting tech to grow up

Sunset over the Adur

I just wrote a post for NEXT Berlin which has provoked a little more reaction than normal. I admit - it's a more touchy subject than most, encompassing both a missing plane, and thus many lives at risk or lost. And it takes a side-swipe at the obsessions of the tech business right now. But despite the not entirely positive reaction, I'm pretty pleased with it, because it encompasses a lot of what I believe about blogging, both in terms of process and in terms of exploring ideas.

First of all, on the process front, it reflects one of my cardinal rules of doing blogging well: connect the impetus to blog with the action to implement as soon as possible.

I was procrastinating slightly about posting, because I wasn't massively enthused about the subject I'd come up with, and then I came across Mary's Facebook post, and the appropriate neurones leapt up of the cognitive couch, brushed the metaphorical pizza crumbs from their notional chests and went to work.

Why did this get me interested? Well, it invoked two of the things I feel strongly about:

1. Get out of the bubble

This is a serious one. I've talked before how I find the intra-journalist discussion about the digital future amazingly dull compared the the conversation happening at the intersection of journalism and everything else. That problem - the echo chamber of like-minded people talking to themselves is everywhere, and it holds us back. When you only look inwards, you keep finding the same old answers.

I feel that the internet of things - as a concept - is locked into that right now. Lots of people borrowing ideas off each other, but basically ending up with the same bunch of products.

This is one of these stories where two worlds come together to make a very interesting possibility. Mash together aviation - and its obsession to safety detail - and the efficient communications skills of the internet of things movement, and you have a very interesting potential partnership. If I could introduce the problem from one side of the fence to potential providers on the other, how could I resist?

Was the timing wrong? I don't know. If you have this conversation long after the event, then you get no traction for the ideas. In a sense, I was taking my cue from the aviation community, which certainly seemed to think that this was an appropriate time to discuss these matters.

2. Time for tech to grow up

The move to mobile and apps is great and everything - but isn't there more than this? It feels like the grand tech juggernaut has ground to a halt and has got utterly distracted by finding new ways for us to play games and chat to each other in increasingly simplified ways. Both of these are admirable things in their worn right. But is that really what we're going to use all this great tech for?

OK, I'm overstating the case. Interesting things are being done outside the startup/apps/VC economy, but you wouldn't know it from the the tech press right now. I think that needs to change. I think we need to puncture that happy little tech bubble, and start looking more deeply at how it really impacts life outside that sphere.

But right now, it's past 11pm, I have to be up early in the morning to deliver a day's training, so I'll leave further exploration of that idea for another day.

This is the seventh in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.

March 5, 2014

Now we are eleven...

Eleven in the sky

This blog is eleven years old today.

But really, who cares on a day when:

It's interesting tracking the relative ages of those things, though. BBC Three is less than a month older than this blog - it was launched on the 9th February 2003. While Metro newspaper dates back to 1999, the website appears to have launched in 2004 - making it younger than this blog. Flipboard and Zite are both whippersnappers, both around three years old.

So, I need to face it. This blog, while not even teenager, is old. But while it may be old, at least it has stamina...

(Can I just extend my sympathies to Kevin and John, both of whom are big Zite users, and both of whom are probably in mourning right now...)

Photo by Martin Snopek, and used under a Creative Commons licence

March 2, 2014

31-3.2 A daily thrashing with the 500 word stick


So, here's a question. Why am I putting myself through the horror of trying to write something substantive for this blog every single day in March?

Leaving aside the possibility of an unexplored masochistic streak, the fundamental reason is because I want to. I like blogging. I love it, in fact. It's been nearly 13 years since I discovered it as a medium and it shifted my world around completely. I'm a busy man, though, trapped between a hectic four-day-a-week consultancy career (long may that "hectic" last) and the demands of being 50% of the available parenting resource for a little girl who has hit the toddler years fast and hard, and is accelerating towards the terrible twos as quickly as she possibly can.

The 40s are a problem for modern couples:

The modern 40s are so busy it's hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new "rush hour of life," when career and child-rearing peaks collide.

Sell, Sell, Self

This blog has got pushed to the sidelines repeatedly since I became a free agent and a Dad, and the closest thing I have to a New Year resolution this year is to rectify that. There are prosaic, financial reasons behind that: my blog remains my showcase, the source of much of my work, and without it I'm essentially doing very little marketing right now (my workload is leaving little room for the round of coffees and lunches that make up my self-promotion). The busy period will end - and I need something there to keep me in people's minds.

However, it's also the place where I crystallise my ideas about the subjects I follow. Some of that "writing myself into existence" has transferred into my lecturing and training, where I've been forced into developing a new language around some of my areas of expertise just so I can communicate them effectively - and that's a subject I intent to return to this month - but my blog still remains the most compelling way of doing so. Why? Well, because I can expose my ideas to the criticism of my peers - and that's incredibly useful in making sure I'm talking something that approximates to sense.

Blogito Ergo Sum.

The Inspiration

Also, some people have been doing something similar, and that lodged the idea in my head. MG Siegler kicked off the year doing something like this. The Man Mayfield pushed me into subscribing to Dan Hon's current experiment in daily mailings (leading to his probable nervous breakdown given the volume he produces) has been a daily(ish) prod to my own conscience.

Besides, a couple of recent posts which have garnered good engagement (and I feel dirty using that word) have reminded me that it's the personal stuff that makes a blog fly. Be it photos from the US, or an insight into an advert I ended up appearing in, that kind of material makes a blog engaging and human in the way some links and commentary doesn't.

I seem to need to relearn - or, at least, reinforce in myself - these kinds of lessons every few years. That's no bad thing, because it also forces me to check and re-evaluate what I know in the light of changes that have happened over that period. After over a decade's blogging, it would be horribly easy to get into a rut - and I don't want to do that.

The Rebellion

Somehow, over the last six months, I've slipped into being predominantly a trainer. The majority (but not the entirety) of my work has been teaching other people stuff. That's great, as far as it goes. It pays well - very well, at times - and is something I seem to be good at. There's also a pretty evident gap in the market for someone with my particular skill set, which works well for me.

I don't want too walk too far down that path, though. I enjoy both the strategic consulting and the content creation aspects of my work, too, and I'm going to be putting some more effort into landing that kind of work in the coming months. In the meantime, though, it's important to do as well as teach. And this blog is the place where I can do whatever the hell I want - even a stupid writing project when I'm far too busy already.

This is the second in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.

February 27, 2014

Another Movable Type upgrade, for the final time?

Movable Type 6 logo

I've just done what I suspect will be the last major upgrade to the Movable Type system I use to run this blog. While MT itself seems to march along merrily, it's clearly targeting large commercial users (I paid for the software upgrade that I've just installed), and I'm ready to jump ship to something else.

That said, having taken a long look at migrating to WordPress, I've decided to hold fire for a little while, to see how Ghost comes along - its 1.0 release is a way away yet. If I end up going to that system, then I'd rather only do one migration, and its focus on Markdown looks handy, given that I mostly blog using that at the moment.

Movable Type 6 (which is what I've just installed) is the fifth version of MT I've used, since I switched from Blogger a very long time ago...

January 21, 2014

Google announces mercy killing of guest blogging

Forked Once upon a time, when the digital world was young and full of idealism, people would occasionally guest post on other people's blog, to comment on something they didn't normally write about, or to bring expertise into a different conversation.

Then, some people - let's call them "probloggers" - decided you could actually use this as a vast content pyramid scheme, by getting would-be bloggers to write posts for your blog. They hoped that they might get a trickle of your traffic, but you got free content to support your ads, so you didn't care much either way.

And then the SEO business noticed that these guest posts brought with them links, and links equal pagerank. And in that moment, guest posting contracted a terminal illness:

So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn't recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn't recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

That's Matt Cutts of Google talking. But that sort of thing only carries weight if he gives a coded warning that an algorithm update is coming.

Oh, here it is...

So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it's become, I'd expect Google's webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.

I'm sure I've got a bottle of champagne around here somewhere...

Photo by Holly & Chris Melton and used under a Creative Commons licence

January 9, 2014

Do you aspire to dress like a blogger?

I got an e-mail from Next (the clothes and homewares people, not the conference people) earlier. This is what it looked like:

NEXT to blogging

Yes, Next is selling "blogger style" as a look.

Is there any other industry where blogging has been so throughly assimilated into the way it operates as fashion? Tech, I suppose. But other than that?

January 7, 2014

2014 dawning after disconnection

2014 dawning

And I'm finally back at my desk after the best part of three weeks away from work. Taking serious time off as an independent consultant is a nerve-wracking thing - if you're not working, you're not earning. But this time it was vital. No only did my wife need the time, but I also needed the break. The last two years have been hectic, and I've barely paused for breath over that period.

The disconnected time over Christmas and New Year did my stress levels and creativity a great deal of good. I feel relaxed (if a little pressured by the in-box ahead of me...) and I have plenty of new ideas for things I want to invest my time and energy into over the coming year. And, if I can sort out a pesky flight to New York, I'm in the happy position of being essentially fully booked work-wise until the middle of April.

(Of course, if you have something big happening in the spring you think I can help with, or smaller projects before that, drop me a line)

Most importantly, I think, that disconnected time gave me some distance from the bubbles I live in. I've spent precious little time thinking about the worlds of journalism, social media and tech over the past few weeks, and that allows me to come back to them with an amount of distance - which is incredibly useful when you're trying to do some cogent critical analysis on them.

As a result, I'm looking forwards to blogging up a storm in the weeks to come, before teaching kicks back in at City University...

I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year.

December 16, 2013

This is our web


Yes, recycling other people’s recycling of other people’s recycling of cat gifs is fun and easy on Tumblr. Yes, rubbing out a good bon mot on Twitter can satisfy one’s ego and rekindle a wistful remembrance of meaning. Yes, these things are still fine to do. But they are not all we can do on this web. This is our web. Let us not surrender it so easily to new corporate masters.

Seems to resonate with what Kevin Marks was saying last week…

December 12, 2013

The face(s) of emerging media

Leweb 2013 - Paris

This year's LeWeb Official Bloggers (minus a few), shot by the painfully talented Luca.

I'm concerned how much I look like the aged patriarch of the group - given that some others, like Erno, are older than me...

Still, this is the face of emerging media.

Automattic backs WordPress bloggers in court

Parker Higgins:

The blogging platform has taken the unusual -- and welcome -- step of going to court to defend its users against bogus copyright claims aimed at silencing their speech on the platform. Automattic, WordPress's parent company, has joined two separate lawsuits that seek to hold the would-be censors of legitimate lawful speech accountable for their attempts.

Good on Automattic. This stuff is getting ever more important.

[via Kevin Anderson]

November 13, 2013

The Dish-y path to reader-supported publishing

HowlerHave I written about Andrew Sullivan's attempt to make his long-running blog The Dish a sustainable media enterprise? Ah, only in passing. Time to correct that.

The Dish has been on my reading list for as long as I can remember. Sullivan's work was a huge influence on me in my early days as a blogger (over a decade ago...). But what makes his current campaign to make The Dish pay its own way is that he's not starting where most bloggers do - with just themselves to support. No, he's got a team of writers and interns, and he's aiming to do it without ads or venture capital backing. It's going well:

With your help, and with six weeks to go, we're now at $807K in our first year revenue, closing in on our goal of $900K. Tinypass made that possible; you made it happen. If you are a regular reader of the Dish, all we ask is that you consider if what we provide each day is worth $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. If it is, please subscribe.

I've been a subscriber for over 10 months, and I'm really hoping he hits his target. As he says himself:

As you can see, this model is not just about us. It's about building a future for a whole range of new media on the ashes of the old.

That's really the key point here - is there scope for small online businesses built around blogging sustained by the readers? If the answer is "yes", then we have a very interesting future ahead of us...

October 12, 2013

A Markdown link selection

This is really handy to know:

If you are publishing to a blog system that does not recognize Markdown, and you can’t for example install a custom WordPress plugin to facilitate such recognition, you will need to see that your Markdown content is converted to HTML before publishing.

Starting in MarsEdit 3.6, a new per-blog option makes it easy to automatically convert Markdown content to HTML when you publish to a blog.

I've really got into the swing of writing in Markdown, and this allows me to use it even when writing for companies that don't have it installed in their WordPress server.

As for my own WordPress installs (including the one that will host this blog, as soon as I have the spare time to do the move), and an install of Ghost:


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