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“Our way of working meant that the hugely talented writers we partnered with were only in a position to contribute content—not concept. They wrote copy, but we missed the opportunity to tap into the thinking behind it…Writers and designers are better together.”

– “What Does a Writer Know About Design?” by Ben Steele

Great writers don’t just put someone else’s vision into words, but help shape and refine that vision through language. -DH

With great power comes great…need for governance: Why the web hosting industry needs solid direction

 

Companies that provide web hosting services play a huge role in how free and open the Internet is. For how much a web host does to provide a platform for websites and media, it could also be providing your customer information to government bodies without you knowing…and without them being able to tell you. This is just one of the reasons web hosts need to have their concerns to be heard.

Read more about why and how to give voice to web hosts and their diverse issues and concerns in my latest article for the WHIR:  http://www.thewhir.com/web-hosting-news/giving-the-web-hosting-industry-a-voice

On Being Raw and Vulnerable Online

 

Many people I follow on blogs and on Twitter consistently produce witty and clever posts that fit into what’s acceptable of the form. They’re quick hits of delightful smartness that I can absorb, then move onto something else. This is the norm.

But not everything I find online is as clear-cut and pleasant as this, nor should it be.

In a recent Thought Catalog piece, writer Ryan O’Connell talks about the tendency and the danger of a nullifying uniformity among our online communications. Many of us are afraid of putting ourselves out there online and becoming a target for trolls. We’re rather fit into someone else’s notion of how we should behave and think rather than be raw and vulnerable.

O’Connell writes: “People hide behind their phones, they carefully curate their communication with other people, which makes honest moments few and far between.”

A fleeting tweet that satisfied our expectations reaffirms our sense of the world. It lets us move on. But it’s really these honest moments, the ones whose meaning isn’t obvious, that generally stick with us.

As I see it, writing about our lives and our world is basically an exercise in observation in which one draws attention to connections between people, places, ideas, and so on. We observe something, analyze it, then produce a report on our findings.

Comedy writer Hallie Cantor wrote a beautiful blog post on experiencing things without having to make them a joke

It’s easier to agree that something is funny than to agree that December feels like being in a concrete building that’s the highest point in a tiny state and daydreaming about some boy and listening to Charlie Parker. But when I can convince myself to remember that other people’s stories are interesting, I wish it didn’t have to be funny. I wish it were enough to just look.

Going “off-script” is not as easy for people to process as a neat, self-contained joke.

Many would assume that digital media is making our generation too narcissistic and/or soporific to make an eloquent and irreverent statement like Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Ginsberg wasn’t afraid to go to dark places, and be real in a time of great conformity.

Perhaps, though, our battles are more specific and nuanced to the point where no single voice can speak for a generation. Our blog posts and tweets might seemingly be “a dumping ground for every non-thought that crawls through their brain” and often falling short of a rally cry. But do we really need to compel action from people? It seems to me that it’s often enough just to be honest about what we’re thinking about and to show others our experiences and how we live our lives – even if that means posts about your mundane and unfulfilled life.

Rather than “build our brands,” we can be part of an internet that moves beyond what’s deemed acceptable or rational or appropriate. We need to fight our need to come across as calm, cool and collected (or simply put: normal). Otherwise, we’ll have an online world that conforms to what is expected, and never delivers what is needed.

“Writing in scenes represents the difference between showing and telling. The lazy, uninspired writer will Itell Ithe reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality, vividly, memorably – and in action. In scenes.”

– Lee Gutkind, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

Blog Like a Journalist (presentation slides from WordCamp Montreal)

When we step back and think about it, we live in an era where so many different stories and experiences are made available through the Internet. And blogs are been a venue for expressing more voices than ever before. But while we’re oftne more likely to find our news on blogs than on our evening TV news or morning paper, the principles of journalism still apply to the new media.

It’s in this landscape that I frame my presentation from Montreal WordCamp 2013, “Blog Like a Journalist”.

Contrary to many naysayers, I think opening up media production via blogs bodes well for journalism, but we need to maintain the good journalistic practices that have served the public well for so many years.

Journalism isn’t about the medium, it can be thought of as a combination of practices, ethics, and philosophy. It’s about conveying information in a rigorous, responsible and accountable manner, paying attention to detail, accuracy, and high standards, and striving for balance and objectivity.

This all makes what you write more truthful to what you’re presenting and readers will find it more trustworthy.

In this presentation, I explain how a writer can maintain a high commitment to journalism, while also employing storytelling styles which are more compatible with blogs and their audiences.

Learning to Reframe Failure

It’s been my experience that a lot of people who did well in high school and university end up faltering later in life because they’re afraid to fail. I found, during high school especially, that doing what was expected – getting good grades and not acting out – was a way of avoiding confrontation. And while this education is something that has served me well over the years and I’m grateful that a great deal of my learning in school was driven by positive reinforcement, there is something missed if you’re not learning through failure.

In a recent podcast, Good Life Project host Jonathan Fields talks about how it’s important to let go of the fear of failure in order to do the things most important to us. It’s not that we should attempt things that have no chance to succeed, but that we shouldn’t think of failure as such as terrifying prospect that we don’t even start.

Fields notes that it’s important to reframe what it means to fail: “Instead of saying, ‘I’ll be judged and ostracized’ the different frame on that is, ‘If I fail, what an extraordinary opportunity for me to understand why I failed, understand how to do it better and then apply this new knowledge to the next iteration of my path.’”

While “Failure is not an option” was a snappy quote around the Apollo 13 mission, apparently the real quote was more along the lines of: “…when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them.” Contrary to the sort of thinking that cripples us, this reaction to bad situations is productive.

It’s not that be fail but how we fail that comes to define us.

Yarn Bomber Magda Sayeg Recontextualizes Knitting

Coming from a family of great women crafters and often hearing craft disparaged in comparison to “real art”, I really like the sentiment behind “yarn bomber” Magda Sayeg’s rationale for her extreme knitting.

This craft, which is strongly associated with women has, in the past, been delegated to a domestic existence where it has been undervalued and under-appreciated. I love that, in some way, I have contributed to showing the strength of this craft—knitting and crocheting doesn’t have to be functional, it can be subversive, renegade—even illegal in certain cases. It’s bad ass! And it makes me proud, as a woman, to be a part of something that is so powerful.

While knitting is often considered less of an art because it tends to quite literally follow a set pattern. And yet here’s someone who’s standing up for knitting as a legitimate form of creativity and expression by adding new meaning and context.

Check out Magda Sayeg’s her interview with Design Milk for more on her work.

Closet culture goes virtual with Pinterest

 
Pinterest takes our desire to collect things, make lists, and share what we love, and lets us express that in a sleek and intensely visual experience.
 
Launched in March 2010 and still in beta, Pinterest is an online community where members can post things to a virtual wall that they find interesting, and connect with people who share tastes and interests.

Putting up photos and posters of your interests has been going on in teenagers’ bedrooms and locker doors for decades. Pinterest extends this concept into the digital age.

The visual appeal is key to understanding Pinterest. Twitter is extremely text heavy, and, while Facebook certainly has visual appeal, it’s not as clean and sleek. Tumblr can be configured as a photo sharing site, and, indeed, some of the most successful Tumblrs do this.

I’m not entirely sold on the concept of Pinterest, but I do think its nascent success speaks volumes about the power of images.

The logos of many social media sites

Social media isn’t just window dressing

The logos of many social media sites
 
When the New York Times decided to can their social media position, they explained: “Social media can’t belong to one person; it needs to be part of everyone’s job…It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process”

I have to agree with the Times. If you’re responsible for social media at your company, find out what to Tweet out by actually talking with your colleagues, and encouraging them to send you messages they want posted. Engage them in a debate and publish the outcome.

A lot of people think of social media as being an outward facing marketing effort, but the way I see it is that it should be something that permeates the organization, and that everyone’s involved in. Social media should be used to make a more social organization, and marketers cannot fake this.

Creative Portfolio Communities: Do designers need to be on them?

Four creative portfolio communities

A discussion on the social network Quora had me thinking about whether or not having a standalone website is that best way to promote yourself as a graphic or Web designer. Having a portfolio website used to be and still is a common way to promote your design skills online. But now there are more options available, and they’re gradually being taken more seriously. 

It’s within the realm of possibility that a business would promote themselves using only a Facebook page. While it would have been unheard of years ago, networks like Facebook are now legitimate options for those who want an online presence without necessarily having a webpage.

Designers now have “creative portfolio communities”, which are sites that provide them personal profiles and portfolio pages. The top CPC sites are Coroflot, Behance, Cargo, and Dribble.

These sites take care of all the technical aspects of your portfolio such as hosting, as well as much of the design. While you give up some creative control and having your own domain, these sites offer a uniform place to display your services to potential clients.

Also, because CPCs offer a community, they have a social layer that most websites lack. The social layer involves letting users interact with your page often with comments, questions, and reviews. Because these sites socialize your brand, they help people get to know you and your business better, and people like to do business with people they know.

And because CPCs are designed to be communities, someone can go to these sites to find an individual who meets their particular needs, and it won’t necessarily be the first designer they stumble upon. Rather than browse dozens of individual vendor websites, you have access to the portfolios of hundreds of individuals in similar wrapping. It’s sort of like the difference between authors sending their books to bookstores and selling them on street corners.

It’s important to go where your audience expects you to be. So, right away, CPCs have an advantage because lots of people go to a site like Behance with the goal of seeking out great design and/or finding a great designer for their project.

But with creative portfolio communities, you want to make sure that it’s not only other graphic designers who are visiting your profile. Also, there isn’t one network to rule them all. For bands, Myspace is a site that people recognize as a place to find new music. If there’s a band worth listening to, chances are they have a Myspace page. There currently isn’t a Myspace for design.

While the Justin Biebers don’t necessarily compete with little-known indie bands for different fan segments, there is a tendency for CPCs to create competition between various creatives. Because of ranking systems, star designers will be over represented, giving them more prestige and burying middle-of-the-pack designers and those new to the site.

Is it worth competing? In my opinion, you should have a standalone website and use CPCs to promote yourself, and lead people back to your site. Just like Facebook fan pages, CPCs are yet another tool you can use to help people find you online. At least for now, CPCs aren’t mainstream enough for the typical non-designer to rely upon them solely. People often find their designers through their friends, work colleagues, and Google searches.

Give people lots of ways to find you online that point back to your website. I recommend getting on these networks because they’ll increase your visibility, let you see how you stack up against competitors, and you’ll be part of a design-centric, online community. CPCs are something that have come a long way in a few years, and, as they grow in prominence, they’ll surely be another venue for finding new jobs, and even some inspiration.