Rands in Repose: Very Important Strangers→

Rands in Repose: Very Important Strangers→

A couple weeks ago, my coworkers and I attended the re:build conference in Indianapolis. It was great, and included a lot of really fantastic speakers: Mig Reyes from Basecamp; Julie Ann Horvath from &yet; and Benjamin Dauer from NPR Digital, to name just a few.

One speaker who I was only marginally familiar with, Michael Lopp, “Rands“, from Palantir. He has a great blog, “Rands in Repose“, and recently he blogged about his speech at re:build. It’s great advice; I’ve been doing more public speaking in the past year than I have ever before, and he gives some candid tips about allowing yourself to freak out. His tips must work, because his talk was excellent:

I arrive at the venue 30 to 60 minutes before the talk, take a glimpse of the venue to get a sense of the audience if they’re there, head to the green room or equivalent, and then I let myself panic.

The point again: standing in front of a bunch of strangers and baring your soul is not a natural act. There are humans who stand up there up and make it easy, but I know two things about these humans: the first time they did it, they were terrified, and the best ones are still a little terrified.

With my double kamikaze, black shirt, and panic, I find somewhere quiet and start playing that Sigur Rós song on repeat. I pace and let myself freak out a bit. Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, I am going to screw up in some unexpected way. Yes, there will be some unexpected disaster that will mess with my flow, but I also know that nervousness is normal and authentic. I know that every screw-up is an opportunity to improvise and create something new.

[Link]

There’s more, including a template slide that is the perfect way to troubleshoot a bad A/V setup, which I could have used on multiple occasions. And by “freaking out” about the presentation and being obsessive about it, for a time, means you’ll know the material well by the time you go on stage.

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

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

I 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→

A Redditor expertly explains the value of an English degree→

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.”

I’m discussing content strategy over on the GatherContent blog→

I’m discussing content strategy over on the GatherContent blog→

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→

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

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→

I’m really excited about Ghost→

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:

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:

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→

Teach your cat to code→

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.

Contently, a portfolio platform for online writers→

Contently, a portfolio platform for online writers→

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→

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

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.

Roman Mars interview on Inside Joke with Dirk Walker→

Roman Mars interview on Inside Joke with Dirk Walker→

Have you guys heard Inside Joke yet? It’s a fortnightly podcast where my friend Dirk talks to interesting people. He’s interviewed awesome people so far like Matt Kelley, Erica Anderson and Alex Jonathan Brown. He even interviewed me several months ago.

But this most recent episode takes the cake. He has Roman Mars from the excellent, excellent podcast about design and architecture, 99% Invisible. This is a big deal for public radio geeks like me. I learned a lot about Roman Mars (Like did you know he’s responsible for Public Radio Remix?

It’s a reasonable listen at 45 minutes. You should check it out at the link, or go find it on the iTunes Podcast Store.

Medium is the message

Something really exciting happened to me yesterday — I was invited to contribute to Medium (which I’ve mentioned before in a previous post here) This is a platform I’ve been excited about for months — it’s a content publishing platform created by Evan Williams (@ev), the founder of Blogger and Twitter. He’s a heavyweight in the […]

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