Read This Before You Start Your Fort Wayne Events and Happenings Website →

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Cover of (260) magazine, issue 1I was honored to have the opportunity to write a story for the inaugural issue of (260) Magazine: “Read This Before You Start Your Fort Wayne Events and Happenings Website“.

It’s a lot of inside Fort Wayne baseball, but at its core, it’s something that I bet a lot of small- to medium-sized cities face: a lot of well-meaning passion projects executed with little or no strategy and resulting in a mass duplication of effort.

In Fort Wayne’s case, this has taken shape in the form of a series of competing websites that try to be the “central hub” of what’s going on in and around Fort Wayne.

The Article

As I mention in the article:

Everyone has their own niches, but it all greatly overlaps. Some are for visitors to Fort Wayne. Some are for those looking to move to Fort Wayne. Some are for residents. Some are for those looking to buy a house. Some are for millennials.

These niches look good on an advertising rate sheet, but on a Venn diagram of potential readers, there’s a whole lot of overlapping.

That word, “hub,” keeps coming up. They want their site to be the central hub for Fort Wayne events.

But what happens when everyone tried to be a central hub?

No one is.

This article has been churning around in my head for several years. It finally culminated when I was being snarky about it on Twitter, as you do, and I got an email from a staff member at an organization who produces one of the websites in question. He and I had a great conversation, and when asked what I could suggest to make a better product, the four principles in this article emerged.

I love the web, and I love my hometown. I want them to play nice together.

I admire and appreciate my fellow Fort Wayne countrymen’s efforts to create useful, informative, creative web content. Now that we’ve established, as a community, that the web is a viable and important place to be, the next step is to be strategic about it, to polish, to collaborate, and to be relevant and genuinely useful.

In other words: to do better.

The Magazine

My friends who form the creative partnership of pye,brown (the “comma” is pronounced) announced a new venture: an alternative voice to the usual Fort Wayne media voice. Somewhere between a ‘zine and literary magazine, (260) is, as they say in the intro paragraph on their site:

… [N]ot about looking to the coasts to learn how to be cool or creative or happy or rich, (260) is about doing what we can with what we’ve got right here, right now. It’s about looking for places we can improve, calling out bullshit when we see it, and celebrating the things that are genuinely awesome.

This was a perfect match.

Issue One (“First Strike”) also includes some amazing short fiction by Elliott Berdan, biting but important social commentary in the form of an open letter from Fort Wayne itself by danee pye, a “punk-rock-optimism” manifesto, and some other great pieces not yet available on the web.

Check out my article here, and then check out some of the other stories. And while you’re at it, support this venture by purchasing a physical copy of the magazine. It’s only $4, and you can read the stories in all their analog, dead-tree glory. More importantly, you’ll be supporting a local independent publishing venture. No one’s getting rich off this publication (not even Ted Turner!), and you’ll be supporting the contributors directly, who were compensated for their submissions (though I would have very willingly written this for free).

A Redditor expertly explains the value of an English degree

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As a proud graduate with an English degree, I sometime take heat from those with specific, technical degrees like mechanical engineering, accounting, or even the ever-abstracting computer science degree. Often, I’ll just laugh and play along, but sometimes I’ll defend my choice. This commenter on Reddit says it best, though. You should go read the whole thing, but here’s the meat:

An English major learns to appreciate each and everything they learn. They often complain their major is useless because they are pulling so much from their other classes. Why is this? Wait, did you just realize what I said? These English majors are pulling information from years ago to use later. They aren’t forgetting their classes – they are actively incorporating them, as well as any life experience or information gained, in what they do. They memorized on a deeper level than most other majors ever will, even though the English major, at its heart, is not about memorization.

They learn to frame everything that is and everything they are into what they are doing. Sure, they are being judged on grammar and structure, but you can learn that outside. Maybe not as efficiently, but you can learn that stuff on your own. The English major? It’s an experience in itself. You can’t self-educate the framing that the English major provides. It sets up the environment to truly learn and incorporate the world around you in your writing.

[Link, with some very mild NSFW for language]

It’s true — English majors learn a discipline, not a craft. I know plenty of crazy-smart engineers who can take apart an appliance and put it back together in no time flat. But sometimes, they have no hobbies, no interests that demonstrate they’re a fully developed person. They can’t think critically about a magazine article or a book or a newscast. And asking them to write something? That’s like pulling teeth. At work, I have clients from whom I often need written content to edit and place on their new websites. Many of our brilliant, but technically-minded clients will expend an exponentially greater amount of energy getting out of writing than just sitting down and writing the damn thing.

But an English major? Writing is no problem. As the Redditor said, “the single most useful element of the English major is completing assignments that are graded subjectively.”

As my partner said recently (herself a fellow English major), “some people don’t go to college to get a job, they go to college to become an interesting person.”

STET, a new publication by Editorially, warms the cockles of my English Major heart

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I’m a huge fan of Editorially. It’s a noise-free online collaborative editor, sort of a cross between Google Docs Drive and iA Writer. I do use both of those applications frequently, and while they both scratch an itch (GDrive is highly collaborative, and iA Writer is Markdown-enabled), Editorially scratches an entirely different itch that neither can reach. When I just want to write quickly and easily, but still want to share or collaborate, it’s perfect.

Well, they’re winning even more Brownie points with me for their newest venture, STET. With a tagline stating that it’s “A Writers’ Journal on Culture & Technology”, STET articles really are meant for tech-savvy readers: an editorial about Twitter here, a short story there, and a travel entry mixed with a product story over there.

It’s lightweight, beautiful to look at, and it reminds me a lot (though there are plenty of differences) of *The Magazine*, a fantastic Apple Newsstand publication that I’ve subscribed to since Issue 1. They’re both like the New Yorker, but for tech nerds.

What’s great about STET is that it adds a new layer on top of all that: some meta-commentary about the writing of the story. The editors will have a sidenote with a micro-critique of the style of piece, or identifying some literary device they use to advance the narrative.

Like this editor’s sidenote in Roxane Gay’s opinion piece, “What Twitter does”:

Gay is not merely telling us her thoughts; through repeat uses of the collective “we” and numerous invitations to visualize her personal relationship to Twitter, she evokes the familiar and the relatable within the wide spectrum of the social media debate.

I love that. As an English Lit graduate, I often find myself identifying (or trying to identify) narrative structures and literary devices used in Medium posts or articles in The Magazine. STET is comforting because I know the writers and editors think about this, too, and—more importantly—know I care.

It’s so much fun! Even without the meta-commentary, STET is a good read. And I almost don’t want to put it in my RSS reader because, like Medium, the design is such a joy to experience.

(I have to admit, though, it’s hard getting used to reading indented paragraphs online, rather than the typical double-spaced paragraphs. Check this out:)

In any case, I’ve really been witnessing a renaissance of good quality online publications, and that couldn’t make me more happy. STET definitely continues this trend.

It inspires me to brush up on my writing; to step up my game so that I might be able to, some day, submit some of my writing to one of these great publications.

I’m discussing content strategy over on the GatherContent blog

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I love GatherContent. It’s a web service that, among other things, makes it much easier for people like me to collect content in a specific, structured way, from clients who may otherwise not understand what we need when building their website. They have a great blog that’s a one-stop resource for content strategists or other word-focused web people like me. I wrote a guest post over there a few months ago about structured content that was a lot of fun.

Mark, their new community manager, contacted me last week to help revive their interview series! While I didn’t have anything earth-shattering to say, I enjoyed the opportunity to rant a bit. The biggest takeaway that I think I can give:

I’ve learned (through failure!) how to adapt my communication style to different people. Some will do anything within their power not to have to write something, yet can’t or won’t pay for professional copywriting. Sometimes, I feel like a freshman composition teacher. There is a lot of explaining, a lot of cajoling, and a lot of editing.

(It makes me a little nauseated to quote myself, but a link post is not complete without a blockquote, right?)

In any case, thanks, Mark for the opportunity! And thanks to Carson from ClearElevation for the great photo. He made me look 300% less schleppy than usual.

Hop on over to read the full interview.

 

Matt Griffin: Make the web development process more collaborative from the beginning

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If you are a web developer (or work at a web development agency like I do), check out this article by triple-threat web designer/web writer/fine-bearded Matt Griffin. He has really great pointers for a smooth website creation process for clients. My main takeaway:

It’s time for us to shed the vestigial mindsets we’ve inherited from the advertising world—the closed communications and drama of the “big reveal”—and build new systems based on honesty, inclusion, and genuine communication. We can bring our clients into the process right away, letting them see all the flaws and bumps along the way. Through this relationship they will become true partners—rather than confused, anxious bystanders—as we learn to better navigate this strange, evolving digital universe together.

Right on! Matt backs up this assertion by giving great examples and resources for web developers to use when concepting a site and communicating with the client.

Go check it out!

I’m really excited about Ghost

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I’m always on the lookout for a cool new publishing platform. I’m  using WordPress for this Welfle.com blog, but with some hackery in place. I’m using a modified wp-svbtle theme, which comes with a really great editor. It’s super-streamlined, and the writing experience is almost exceptional. But when I’m using the WordPress panel, there’s a lot of extra crap I don’t want:

  • I have to use a special plugin to write in Markdown — it’s clunky, cluttered, and a little buggy.
  • I don’t use categories or tags in my posts.
  • I don’t use custom content fields (well, except when I hook an external URL up to my post title for link posts)

WordPress, which started off as a platform purely for blogging, has developed so many other features over the years, some argue that it’s not a blogging platform anymore — it’s a full-fledged content management system. I tend to agree.

John O’Nolan, who used to work at Automattic (WordPress’s development company), agrees. He wrote a blog post a few years ago outlining a “WordPress-lite fork” called Ghost:

Ghost, is my idealistic and fictional concept for a WordPress-lite fork. It has one purpose, and only one purpose: enabling digital publishing for the masses. Enabling people with more important ideas and things to say than I ever will to publish content online – quickly, easily, beautifully and efficiently. Ghost is about breaking down the same barriers that WordPress originally did.

(Link. If this interests you at all, read it. It’s exciting)

Well, friends, today, Ghost is going from concept to reality! After a tremendously successful Kickstarter campaign (where they raised almost £200,000 out of an original £25,000 goal), it’s launching tomorrow!

Well, it launches for Kickstarter backers. There will be a public release, available for free, but that comes a bit later.

While I wasn’t able to pledge on Kickstarter, I am beyond excited for this piece of software. The proposed dashboard is completely gorgeous:

Ghost CMS Dashboard

What I think I love most is the native Markdown editor. You may know how much I love Markdown, though I still love seeing what the formatting will look like once it publishes. Ghost offers a perfect compromise between the two through a nifty split-screen view of the Markdown editor and the HTML it outputs:

Ghost markdown editor

Isn’t that awesome? I’m really, really looking forward to migrating this site over to Ghost.

In any case, if you were a Kickstarter backer, go claim your copy of Ghost! I’ll wait for the public release like all the other plebians. But please, let me know in the comments what you think!

And if you want to learn more, go check out the website.

 

Teach your cat to code

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I posted this over at Medium today:

Look, I’m sure you don’t want your cat to be unhappy. That’s why you keep buying it toys, treats, furniture, treats, catnip, fancy food, treats, and, um, treats. But honestly, how happy can that stuff make it? Don’t you think after a while, the realization that it’s just a consumer will dawn on your cat? Maybe it wants to lead a productive life. I bet my ninth life that in its heart of heart, your cat wants to make things. It wants to help others. It wants to learn, experiment, fail, try again, and eventually succeed.

Teach your cat to code.

Get 1Password: it’s 50% off (for now)

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I work with some really talented people. My former coworker Aaron Bushnell and current coworker Nick Johnson are two of the most talented developers I’ve ever even talked to, much less work alongside of. And when it comes to the way they work, I have learned to shut up and listen to their advice.

1Password requires you to enter one master password, which unlocks the rest of your access codes.

That’s why I’ve had it on my list to purchase and implement 1Password for some time. The application and the company that develops it, AgileBits, is revered by its constituents, almost in a religious way. The way it operates, the underlying philosophy and the peace of mind it instills in the secure way it stores your passwords is really interesting to a lot of people. Their website has a very active discussion forum, and their blog is full of interesting, cryptological goodies and case studies. These developers don’t just make an app — they love everything about what they do, and it shows.

A lot of smart people think the password system is flawed and what’s interesting is that 1Password knows and admits that. They give users the right tools to make the most of the way it works. And now, in a world with single sign-ons, OAuth and “Sign in with Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Etc.”, a lot of us have no idea who the heck is verifying our identities and how we’re signed in. And, a lot of us (myself included, until recently), use one or two passwords for the dozens and dozens of online accounts we have.

1Password helps you fix that. With a random password generator and a super-simple password manager app for iOS and OS X (and Windows, and Android, and various browser extensions), you only have to know your one master password (which is heavily locked down and encrypted), and it stores all your other passwords, which are (hopefully) unique from each other.

The biggest drawback to 1Password is its price: It’s expensive. The iPhone app will run you about $18, and the OS X desktop app is $50, so you definitely making an investment. That’s going to be a barrier for a lot of people.

Luckily, that’s not a problem for now. AgileBits is running a 50% off sale on their products, which was just the catalyst I need to pick it up.

One of my biggest fears in the modern world is having all the PINs, passwords, passphrases, keycodes, and identify-verifiers fall out of my head. The trade off used to be that if you keep your access information easy to remember, it’s not hard for someone with dishonorable intentions to get into it. Until nowThis is something that 1Password almost completely solves, and the peace of mind it brings

Contently, a portfolio platform for online writers

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Most of my best writing is spread out among a number of other websites. My guest post at GatherContent, for one, and some favorites from Medium or Woodlcinched. I appreciate that my writing is found in a diverse number of sites, but how do I show all those articles to someone at once?

Because of this question, I’ve been looking for a good online writing portfolio for years now. Sure, I could (and maybe should) put a custom portfolio option in a subdirectory of Welfle.com, but I tend to think that if others can create one better than I, why not use theirs?

That’s why I was excited when I found Contently recently. They have free platforms for writers, for brands and for media companies. I’m concerning myself specifically for the portfolio platform for writers.

Andy’s writing portfolio on Contently
It lets me add publications for which I’ve written, and from there, I can add clips. From there, I can get into the granular details, editing the title, description, and thumbnail of each clip (if the original article doesn’t have an image? No problem: I can upload my own!). I can rearrange those clips within my portfolio. And — best yet — it dynamically shows how many shares, likes, comments, etc. that I’ve gotten on it.

There are a few things I’m not thrilled about — it calls each clip a “story” for example, like I am a journalist or a fiction-writer. And see there where it says I have “2.5k followers”? That’s including Twitter and LinkedIn followers, where in reality there is likely a big overlap. And a couple of the publications have no appropriate thumbnail, so it displays a generic icon which I don’t think looks great.

Still, though, for a managed service, and a free one at that, this is great.

Sign up here, or if you want to see mine, check it out here.

From Blobs to Chunks: A Real Life Example of How to Structure Content

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I’m trying to do more writing about content strategy, since that’s what I do professionally. I’m a big fan of the folks across the pond over at Gather Content. They make a really invaluable tool for people like me — it’s a system to collect content from a client, for later integration into their website.

They also have a pretty great blog about content strategy, and have invited me to contribute to it! I adapted a piece I wrote for the Reusser Design blog and submitted it to them!

I learned about this whole “blobs/chunks” things from my content strategy hero, Sara Wachter-Boettcher. In a nutshell, it’s about custom content types (chunks) as opposed to a general WYSIWYG editor to handle the main content of a page (blobs).

Hit the link for the full article and some screenshots.

I started a National Poetry Month collection on Medium

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I have some friends who are amazing poets. I mean, really, really good. My good friend Erica has a blog called Let it go and I am consistently blown away by how beautiful her poems are.

She, and other friends, really ramp it up in April, which is National Poetry Month. She’s committed to a poem a day, and while I can’t match that, I’m trying to get the creative juices flowing to that area again. I figured others might like to join me in the National Poetry Month Poems collection on Medium.com.

I used to not be too bad at writing poetry. In college, I wrote a few that I was, and still am, pretty proud of. Trouble is, after graduation, almost all of my writing took a turn for the concrete — I write almost solely to inform nowadays, and I’m painfully out of practice with fiction writing (which was my whole life at a certain time in my life), entertainment features writing and poetry.

Nowadays, I can still write a limerick or a haiku, which I don’t really consider real poetry. (At least not the way I write haikus.) But to set my mind free to make associations I don’t usually do — I don’t know if my mind is lest plastic with age, or if I’m just woefully out of practice, but it’s a serious challenge.

Hopefully, this month I can overcome that.