The Tension Between Consumption and Creation of Content (a.k.a. spending time reading Facebook doesn't help with writing)

Facebook newsfeedThere went another hour! I wanted to do some writing tonight but first I sat down and said "I'll just take a quick look at Facebook"... and there I was... an hour later... having learned all about the lives of friends (well, the parts of their lives they want to post about on Facebook), read a bunch of interesting links, and gone off into topic areas that were fascinating - although probably didn't really add anything to the fullness of my life.

Meanwhile, the total number of words I'd written was...

zero.

There is this fundamental tension between consuming content and creating content.

It has nothing directly to do with the Internet, of course. Long before the Internet it was easy to be distracted from writing by TV, radio, books... or just conversations with friends and family, or projects around the house or office.

Distractions have always been numerous... the Internet just does what it does best by removing the middlemen and making it even easier to be distracted.

My friend Donna Papacosta once posted an image on Facebook that I printed out and taped up on my window frame right at eye level that said simply this:

Writing is
3% talent
and
97% not getting distracted
by the Internet

I see that every day when I sit in my home office, with the ever-present reminder that the key word is:

FOCUS

and the need to do that.

Two years ago I wrote a post that took the rather draconian line of "Every Minute You Spend Consuming Content Is A Minute You Are Not Creating Content".

That is, of course, very true. But there is the reality that sometimes we NEED to consume content. Sometimes it is because we are researching something we want to write about. Sometimes it is just simply that we want to relax... that we need to give our minds a break.

I've come to appreciate over many years that there is strong value in stepping away from the creation of content to give yourself a break... and often when you then return to the creating you return refreshed and renewed. Reading a good book or seeing a movie or reading good articles online can often lead to new lines of writing or thinking. There is value in staying up with what friends are doing - and sharing what you are doing.

The trick is trying to find the balance. There is a natural tension between time spent on consumption vs creation. Too much consumption leaves little time for creation. Too much creation can leave you without the benefits of some consumption.

Somewhere in between lies the point we need to achieve.

I don't have the answer... each day I'm trying to find that balance. Some nights like tonight I don't do so well... other days I do.

Focus.

Balance.


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Suggestions For An Editorial Calendar Tool/Service? (For Content Strategy)

Editorial calendarWhat kind of tools or services have you found most useful for maintaining an "editorial calendar" for the content creation your organization does? What have you found helps you best plan out your content strategy?

For the last 3.5 years at the Internet Society, I've been using the insanely awesome EditFlow plugin for WordPress to plan out the content we've been creating on our Deploy360 website. EditFlow is an amazing amount of awesomeness bundled into one plugin... and if you use WordPress and aren't yet using EditFlow, I'd strongly recommend you check it out!

But here's the thing - in my new role within the Internet Society looking at content strategy across all our different sites and channels, I need a tool that lets our team plan:

  • content across several different websites we maintain
  • content on external websites (ex. CircleID)
  • content in social channels
  • different types of content (ex. blog posts, articles, videos)

Unfortunately I can't easily do this within WordPress. Yes, I could create a dummy "site" on a WordPress server and then use EditFlow as a tracking tool... but that would be a bit of the proverbial square-peg-in-round-hole.

Here's what I love about EditFlow and use on a daily basis:

  • Convenient calendar view - with filters - I can just go into Dashboard -> Calendar and I've immediately go a view into everything we've published and everything we have planned. I can filter the view to see only items based on:
    • Status (ex. published, draft, idea)
    • Category (topic)
    • Author
    • Post type (ex. blog post, resource page)
  • Drag-and-drop re-ordering - One of the single biggest features we'll use is the ability to just drag unpublished content around in the calendar view. When we have our weekly editorial calendar meetings, we will look at what is being planned and just move things around if we need to do. Super simple and easy.
  • Fast creation of new ideas - In those meetings as we talk about what content we want to create, we can just click a "+" button and add a new story idea directly into the calendar interface. (In the background it creates a draft WordPress post scheduled for the relevant day.)
  • Easy deletion of content - Similarly, if we decide to cancel an idea, we can just trash it from the calendar.
  • Story Budget - EditFlow also has another view that it calls the "Story Budget" where I can easily see over a given time period how many pieces of content were created for any given category. On a site where we write about many different topics, this is an easy way to see how balanced we are across the different topics. Similar to the calendar view there are many ways to filter the view.

    Storybudget

  • Multi-user - EditFlow works well because we can give access to as many people as we want (and you can control who has access) - they just need to have an account on our WordPress server. Our team simply logs into the server from wherever they are in the world and we walk through what we have planned for the week. After we move items or create new items, people need to refresh their browser view - but that's it. It works really, really well.

Now, we don't even use the editorial comments, editorial metadata, notifications and user groups that are part of EditFlow. Our Deploy360 team is small enough (4 people) that we haven't yet really needed those capabilities.

But now I'm looking for something with those kind of capabilities that can be used by our larger Communications team and also other people across the organization. I'm NOT necessarily looking for something that will connect to our various publishing platforms. I'm okay if there is simply a way to check off that an item has been published.

Any suggestions or ideas? Some searching around online has shown me DivvyHQ, which is a hosted service that looks from the YouTube videos like it will meet many of what I've listed above. (Not sure about the "categories"... but I think that may fit into their "calendars".)

Other suggestions for hosted services? Suggestions for software we'd host ourselves?

(Thanks in advance - and I'll plan to summarize what I learn in a future post.)


View a discussion on this topic at:


Suggestions So Far


UPDATE: I'd also love it if the service/tool had some of the kinds of content creation statistics I wrote about desiring earlier.


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FIR On Technology Episode 3 - Understanding Markdown

Firontechnology 300What is the Markdown language all about? How is it being used on sites like Ello, Github and in the Jetpack plugin for WordPress? Why should communicators and others involved in PR or marketing careabout Markdown? How can it help more rapidly create content for the web?

Those are all questions I sought to answer in episode 3 of FIR On Technology with Dan York that I published last Friday. The podcast is now available for listening directly on the FIR website or in iTunes or the podcast RSS feeds.

On the episode web page I also provided a list of links for people wanting to know more about Markdown, which I'm reprinting here: 

I've found using Markdown to be extremely helpful in rapid content creation. I've naturally been using it on Ello (where I also wrote about this FIR On Technology episode) and on Github, but I'm also starting to use it for some posts on a couple of my WordPress sites courtesy of the Jetpack plugin. As I note in the episode, Markdown is not something necessarily new... after all it first came out in 2004... but it has seemed to attract more interest in recent years.

One point I forgot to make in the episode is that Markdown is not the only "lightweight markup language" out there. There are definitely other similar languages, each with their own take on how to make markup simple. An example I've used on several sites in the past is Textile. However, my interest these days has been in Markdown, and there seems to be a good bit of momentum behind the language... and so hence this podcast.

Anyway... I hope you find it useful and helpful. If you do, or if you have other comments or ideas or suggestions about Markdown, please do leave a comment here - or over in the FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

Enjoy!


P.S. I also recorded a The Dan York Report episode providing a preview of this FIR On Technology episode:


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New WordPress 4.1 Provides Much Improved Distraction-Free Writing Experience

WordPress version 4.1 is out today and the greatest feature I like is a new and MUCH improved "distraction-free writing" experience.

Wordpress4 1 dfw

The beautiful part about this is that when you click in the window and start typing, all the sidebars and menus fade way so that you can just focus on writing...

BUT...

... the moment you move your mouse outside the writing window all the sidebars and menus come back!

This is a huge improvement over the previous experience with WordPress 4.0 where once you clicked the button you were in a white screen with no way out unless you scrolled up and clicked the link in the menu bar that appeared:

Wordpress4 0 dfw

I found the WordPress 4.0 way so annoying that I never used it. Inevitably after I entered the mode I needed to change categories or tags or something like that - and so it was simply easier to NOT use the distraction-free mode.

The WordPress development team produced a video that shows how well this new writing mode works.

I like it because it lets me write but also makes it super easy for me to get back to the menus and sidebars.

All you need to do to enable the "distraction-free writing" mode is to click on the box on the right top of the editing window:

Dfw

It acts as a toggle to turn the "DFW" mode on or off.

Very nicely done!

There were of course many other aspects of the WordPress 4.1 release. The release post and the field notes as well as the codex entry go into much more detail. The Twenty Fifteen theme is pretty cool... and some of the other features are also interesting. But for me... I just like this new writing environment!

What do you think? What do you like best about WordPress 4.1?


An audio commentary is available as TDYR 200:


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Two Weeks In... How Is A Blog Post A Day Doing? #Finish2014Strong

So, two weeks after saying I would write at least one blog post a day (and talking about that) for all of December 2014, how am I doing?

Well... so far so good.

  • I posted at least once on the Deploy360 site every work day.
  • I did put something up on my personal sites every day so far.
  • I recorded a new "The Dan York Report" podcast on 10 of the 14 days.

I've had a serious cold/cough that made for really poor audio... so on some of the worst days I skipped it. I didn't think it made sense to record a poor-quality audio podcast just for the sake of saying I did it.

In fact, I'm honestly surprised how much I did write, given how foggy my head has felt and how most days it has seemed like I'm moving through molasses.

Now... the question will be whether I can continue this through the remaining days that include holidays and vacation time!

Here's the list of the month so far:


Monday, December 1

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

Other:


Tuesday, December 2

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Wednesday, December 3

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Thursday, December 4

Deploy360 Programme:

DNSSEC Deployment Initiative:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Friday, December 5

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

  • (no podcast - too sick)

Saturday, December 6

Deploy360 Programme:

  • (no post)

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Sunday, December 7

Deploy360 Programme:

  • (no post)

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

  • (no podcast - too sick)

Monday, December 8

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

Other:


Tuesday, December 9

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Wednesday, December 10

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

  • (no podcast - too sick)

Thursday, December 11

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Friday, December 12

Deploy360 Programme:

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:

  • (no podcast)

Saturday, December 13

Deploy360 Programme:

  • (no post)

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Sunday, December 14

Deploy360 Programme:

  • (no post)

Personal Sites:

The Dan York Report audio podcast:


Now we'll see what the rest of the month brings...


An audio version of this post is available:


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A Blog Post A Day For December 2014 - #Finish2014Strong

Over the weekend I decided that I'd set myself the personal challenge of "finishing strong" in 2014 with publishing at least one post across my various different sites for each day of December 2014.

Why?

Well... I started out strong at the beginning of 2014 publishing content very frequently. In fact, I published a post a day on the Deploy360 site for the entire first quarter, mostly just again as a personal challenge. But then as the year went on I haven't been been as consistent.

In running, we talk about "finishing strong"... about trying to keep a little bit of energy in reserve so that you can have a final boost of effort as you get close to the finish line.

With that idea, I'm setting my own personal goal to finish 2014 in a strong way from a content creation / publishing point of view.

My idea is that I'll publish at least one post every day of December, including weekends - and I'll also tag it at least on Twitter with the hashtag #Finish2014Strong. There are others using that hashtag, too, and for similar reasons and ideas, it seems.

I'm writing about this publicly, of course, because if I put it out there in front of all of you reading this... well... I kind of need to follow through on it, eh?

Any of you are welcome to join me! Let's finish 2014 strong from a writing point of view!

TWO Posts A Day, Really

In truth, my goal will really be TWO posts a day. One will be on the Internet Society Deploy360 blog where I am, in fact, employed to be writing every day:

The other post each day will be on at least one of my various different personal sites, including:

  • Disruptive Conversations - how the "social media" of blogs, podcasts, wikis, virtual worlds, etc. are changing the way we communicate
  • Disruptive Telephony - how Voice-over-IP (VoIP) is fundamentally changing the technology we use to communicate
  • CircleID - a site focused on Internet infrastructure where I occasionally contribute articles
  • Code.Danyork.com - a place where I write about programming/developer topics, typically outside the realm of communications/telephony.
  • Voice of VOIPSA - a group weblog from the Voice Over IP Security Alliance on voip security issues
  • Monadnock Curling Club - a site focused on bringing the sport of curling to southwestern New Hampshire
  • DanYork.com - my "personal" site where I write about topics that don't fit in my other sites.
  • Migrating Applications to IPv6, a book published by O'Reilly in June 2011
  • Seven Deadliest Unified Communications Attacks, a book on VoIP security published by Syngress in April 2010

A large part of why I'm doing this is that I haven't been writing very consistently on my personal sites... and I'd like to change that. This is just a personal challenge to see if I can do this.

Quality versus Quantity

A reaction I've heard to this idea is that the quantity doesn't matter if what you do is simply push out a bunch of rather lame half-baked posts. You know the type... a post with one or two sentences that effectively says "Hey, look at this cool new thing..." and then points to another site or article. Or a post that effectively "excerpts" almost an entire other article.

That is very much a challenge with any of these kind of "blog post a day" kind of things... and my goal is definitely NOT to do that.

I want both quality AND quantity!

And the reality is that I have a looooonnnngggg queue of articles I'd like to write - and I need to clean out that queue! In particular, I have a number of more thoughtful/inspirational pieces I'd like to write, probably for my little-used danyork.com site.

The good news is that with the publishing systems I use I can schedule posts out in advance. I don't need to be writing posts each day. For example, there's Christmas in there... and some weekends where I've got some family activities planned. There may be a couple of nights where I spend a few hours getting a number of posts queued up.

The point of the "1 post a day" idea is not so much to guarantee quantity as to motivate myself to get out there and write!

When January 1, 2015, comes around you'll have to let me know how I do. :-)

Plus An Audio Podcast...

And just to keep life interesting, I'm also going to try to record one of my "The Dan York Report" (TDYR) audio podcasts up on SoundCloud each day. Again, I started the year doing one of these a day... and then slacked off a good bit over the past few months. It is so incredibly easy to record these audio segments... I just need to do it!

(And I recorded one for today already.)

DanYork.me - Tracking The Content I Create

I - and you all - will be able to see what content I create this month at my site where I aggregate all the content I write across various sites:

I use a WordPress plugin to pull in the RSS feeds of all the various places I write and display pointers to them on that site. It's a handy way for me to keep track of what I've written and where. A quick scan down can show what I've done.

Join Me?

Do you, too, want to "finish 2014 strong" from a writing point of view? Do you need some extra motivation to pick up the electronic pen and create some more content?

Please do!

This is just my own personal challenge to myself... written publicly... but I welcome any others who want to #Finish2014Strong - having others out there doing the same thing can be an added inspiration for those times when it would be so much easier to do something else rather than write! :-)

Let's see how this goes!


P.S. On day 1 I'm off to a great start with so far these 5 posts plus the audio podcast:

... let's see how the next 30 days go! :-)


An audio version of this post is available:


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Every Minute You Spend Consuming Content Is A Minute You Are Not Creating Content

WatchThink about it... right now, while you are reading this, you could be writing an article for your blog or website. You could be recording a video for YouTube or an audio segment for SoundCloud. You could be working on a new application if you are a developer. You could be writing a guest blog post to appear on some site somewhere. You could be writing up future posts so that they will appear at some later date and keep new content appearing on your site.

Or you could be reading this article... or liking posts on Facebook... or interacting with people on Twitter or Google+... or watching the latest video on YouTube that-you-absolutely-MUST-see-because-it's-so-amazing... or watching that series everyone is talking about on Netflix or commercial TV...

In every moment, you have a choice:

Every minute you spend consuming content is a minute you are not creating content.

Do you read this article? Or do you create a new article that feeds your sites and social networks?

Do you spend time interacting with content other people create on social networks? Or do you create new content that you share out onto social networks?

Obviously, the key is... balance.

We all like - and need - to consume content. We learn by reading, hearing and viewing the articles, podcasts and videos that are out there. We are inspired and amused and delighted and saddened and angered... and every other emotion. We deepen our friendships (and meet new people) by interacting with content created by others.

In fact, sometimes we may need to consume content, in order to create new content of our own. We may need to read articles to research a topic we want to write about - or we may want to read other points of view to bring depth to our own article. Or our own new content may be a "curation" of other content with perhaps added commentary for context - and so we need to be a consumer of content in order to create the new content.

Consuming content may in fact be an important part of the creative process.

BUT... if consuming is all we do... then we are not adding to our own online presence. We are not building our own online reputation through the material we create. We are not providing our own content that others can share. We are not out there telling our own stories and sharing our own information. We are not helping people learn and grow from our experience and knowledge.

Are you just a consumer? Or are you a creator?

Consume? Create?

In every moment, you have a choice... choose wisely.


P.S. A month or so ago, I recorded an audio commentary on a similar topic that you may also enjoy:


UPDATE: After a comment by Alan Percy on Facebook related to this post, I added the paragraph "In fact, sometimes..." and the following one-line paragraph to clarify that consumption may very well be part of the creative process... but again, it is finding the balance.

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Can A Blog Post Be A "Work In Progress"?

Are we stuck with the mental model of blog posts as pieces of content that are just published and then not touched again?

Or can we treat a blog post as a "work in progress" that will continue to evolve and expand over time?

I have been asking myself this question in relation to my quest to tear down some of my own barriers to doing more blogging. The model that we have had since the early days of blogging has been one more similar to traditional news media - you write an article, you publish it, you move on to your next article.

You "fire and forget."

Sure, you might go back and update the article if something was wrong or if later information changed the story a bit, but even in the latter case it is often more common to write a new story with the updated facts and then link to the new story from the old one.

But what if we just posted a blog post as a first draft knowing that it would change and evolve over time?

Almost something more like a wiki. ... perhaps a "blicki" :-)

Where you post knowing full well that you will be editing... and then you do so.

Interestingly, I have been seeing news sites doing this. In the rush to be the first one out with a story to get the tweets and retweets and links, they will publish a stub story with "more details to come" - and then they will in those details in the subsequent minutes and hours.

Can we do that as individual writers though? Can we give ourselves permission to post a partially done piece? And can we have the discipline to go back and update it?

An Implied Contract?

To expand on this a bit (and practice this kind of editing myself), I wonder:

Do we have an implied "contract" with our readers?

Do they expect that the content will not change from when they first read it?  Or at least not change dramatically?

Many of us, myself included, seem to feel there is this implied contract and so when we do go back and update a post, we'll often put those updates at the top or bottom of the article with some kind of marker like "UPDATE:" to clearly show what was been updated.  Or we will use strikethrough to indicate that text is removed.

But what if we just wove all the updates in together to make a cohesive article?

Would readers find that troublesome?

What if the initial content is only a few paragraphs... and then over time it evolves into a lengthy document going on for several pages?

What about the "integrity" of a piece?  If someone else quotes an article or references an article as containing a specific quote or bit of information... but then the article gets modified so that that quote or content is no longer there... what does that mean for the original reference?

For these reasons we tend to think of writing that gets posted online as "fixed"...  but what if we move away from that and let posts evolve over time?

What About The Aggregators?

In the comments to this post, Michael Richardson asks "what will my aggregator think?" And indeed that is a good question. Many people read blog posts in aggregators / news readers / other clients that often pull copies of the articles down onto the local system for the user to read. However, once the article is retrieved, the aggregator may or may not go back and retrieve the article again. And so the user may be sitting there reading an article that is now outdated.

Even with my own aggregation site, danyork.me, where I aggregate pointers to all of my writing, I have it set to pull in the RSS feeds from all my sites and store the contents in that WordPress site. (The site is not indexed by search engines to avoid "duplicate content" issues.) Now, in the particular syndication plugin I use, I have set it to merge in and overwrite any changes that come in from the RSS feeds. So as I update this post, the changes should be reflected over on that site. But I don't believe that was the default setting. I think the default was to ignore any changes in the RSS feeds... so the aggregation site would be out-of-sync with the real content.

For all these reasons, it's not clear to me that we should move away from the way we work today. But could we?

I don't know... it's a shift in thinking.

What do you think?


P.S. You may also be interested in reading "Subcompact Publishing" by Craig Mod. It's a long piece that is exploring a different question, that of our mental model of a "magazine" online, but a similar kind of thought experiment...


The Problem Of Trying Blogging From An iPad Using TypePad

Yesterday's blog post epitomizes one of the problems I have with creating blog posts on a tablet that work with TypePad, the service with which I started hosting this site way back in 2005.

All I wanted to do is have an image that was right-justified with the text wrapping around it. Instead I got this:

Rightjustified not

(Which has now been changed to be correctly right-justified, but through the regular desktop web interface, not to the mobile interface.)

In order to write more regularly, I've been trying out using the iPad as a writing platform. It's been working well for sites hosted on WordPress, but not so well for TypePad.

Because the TypePad app is fairly useless on the iPad, I wrote the post using Blogsy, a fairly interesting and useful blogging app for the iPad. However, try as I might, I could not get Blogsy to right-justify and wrap the image. The issue seems to be that Blogsy would only send to TypePad the <img> tag with this attribute:

class="alignright"

Now this might be fine if the CSS for my theme on TypePad defined a class like that, but it doesn't. I tried multiple times to edit the raw HTML in Blogsy to add the simple inline CSS to the IMG tag of:

style="float:right;"

However, Blogsy kept removing that style attribute when sending it to TypePad. Now, maybe there is some setting in Blogsy that I couldn't find that would pass along CSS attributes... but if so, I have no idea what it is.

Trying other apps to correct the problem... as I mentioned, the TypePad app is fairly useless on the iPad. It is only an iPhone application and so while you can blow it up to take over the whole iPad screen, it is still an iPhone app and doesn't make use of the iPad's screen nor of its improved keyboard. More importantly, it only lets you create new posts - there is no way to edit or modify existing posts... so there was no way to get in and modify the post to add this style attribute to the image.

Next, I tried the "mobile" website for TypePad, but it doesn't seem to work so well on the iPad. I tried to get in and modify the post above and wasn't able to easily do so.

Finally I tried logging directly into the "regular" TypePad website on the iPad. It looked like it might work as I could get into the HTML view (which was the only view, actually) and add the style attribute. But when I went to try to publish the updated post, the Publish button didn't work.

In the end, I had to go to my desktop system and login to the regular TypePad web interface to make this change.

This is a perfect example of what I referred to in my "Barriers to Blogging" series as "Getting The Tools Out Of The Way". A whole chunk time spent... simply to get an image to be right-justified. :-(

Now to get the tools out of the way in this case, I may again search for a better blog post editor on the iPad. Another option, of course, would be to move this blog off of TypePad and over to one of my WordPress servers (where the tools work better)... but that's a much longer process. Still, it is another answer.


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My Report Into FIR #678 - Facebook Mobile Sharing, Barriers To Blogging, and Social Media with Israel/Hamas

In this week's For Immediate Release episode #678 on Monday, November 19, 2012, my report covered:

If you are a FIR subscriber, you should have the show now in iTunes or whatever you use to get the feed. If you aren't a subscriber, you can simply listen to the episode online now. There is a TON of other great information in the weekly episode relevant to those involved with PR, marketing and other forms of communication, so I'd encourage you to give it a listen.


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