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12 posts from February 2014

How to get more story-telling into your writing

Not that you can tell, but I've been trying to incorporate more story-telling techniques into my writing. I understand why it's valuable, but I'm having a great deal of trouble changing my habits and establishing a new process. That's way I appreciate this advice from Cory Doctorow. Tq140226rdNow if I could make this into a story...

Locus Online Perspectives: Cheap Writing Tricks, 2014-Jan-2 by Cory Doctorow

So my favorite, foolproof way to start a story is with a person in a place with a problem, preferably in the first sentence. A named person in a defined setting is a signal to the reader’s human-being-simulator to get started assembling a skeletal frame upon which to hang future details about this ‘‘person.’’

When you add a ‘‘problem’’ – even something as trivial as a hangnail – you snag the reader’s rubbernecking impulse. Any problem out there in the world is a chance for hungry, canny minds to benefit from someone else’s hard-earned experience. It’s a siren song for our base nosiness.

Now, to keep the reader’s attention, you have to convince her problem-solving systems that this problem-solver is worth paying attention to. That means that your character has to attempt to solve his problem intelligently. We may be drawn to watch a fly trying to get out a window, but once we see that it is doomed to beating its brains out on the glass, we look away. Make that character’s attempt to solve the problem intelligent.

Regardless of whether your character solves his problem, the ‘‘solution’’ should give rise to a new problem – on which turns even more of the character’s safety, health, wealth, and/or sanity. Rising dramatic tension – the sense that things are getting more important and consequential – is often just another way of saying ‘‘problems whose stakes get progressively higher.’’

Why we have new problems but better choices

I was introduced to Nonzero by Matthew Wettergreen and this quote from Kevin Kelly reminds me of my own progressive mindset. We should never feel threatened by the new. We should be ready to manage our new problems with better tools. Tq140224td

Edge: The Technium, 2014-Feb-3 by Kevin Kelly

I call myself a protopian, not a utopian. I believe in progress in an incremental way where every year it's better than the year before but not by very much—just a micro amount. I don't believe in utopia where there's any kind of a world without problems brought on by technology. Every new technology creates almost as many problems that it solves. For most people that statement would suggest that technology is kind of a wash. It's kind of neutral, because if you're creating as many problems as it solves, then it's a 50/50 wash, but the difference in my protopian view versus, say, a neutral view is that all these new technologies bring new possibilities that did not exist before, including the new possibility of doing harm versus good.

One way to think about this is if you imagine the very first tool made, say, a stone hammer. That stone hammer could be used to kill somebody, or it could be used to make a structure, but before that stone hammer became a tool, that possibility of making that choice did not exist. Technology is continually giving us ways to do harm and to do well; it's amplifying both. It's amplifying our power to do well and our power to do harm, but the fact that we also have a new choice each time is a new good.

Why do companies need content strategists?

As advertising evolves, the cost of media space is dropping, the cost of production is dropping, but the cost of managing is going up. Without a strong plan and the project management skills of a content strategist, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to gain the attention of their target audiences. Blogging is cheap but traffic is expensive. Tq140220td

eConsultancy: Is This the Age of the Content Strategist?, 2014-Feb-5 by Neil Perkin

There were a number of factors cited by respondents behind this shift including:

  1. The growth in the importance of content, and content marketing, to businesses of many types, and the increasing sophistication of in-house content capability.
  2. The growth in focus on content hungry always-on platforms.
  3. The fragmentation in channels, and platforms for distribution and engagement.
  4. The ever-greater impact that content has in supporting business strategy and metrics.
  5. The role of analytics in making content more accountable.
  6. The ability for content to generate meaningful, interactive customer experiences.

While Content Strategists may have slightly different roles in large or small companies, the emerging discipline is focused on driving capability, and planning and co-ordinating activity.

Playing along in social media

I'm not saying there aren't pitfalls in using social media, but if more people looked at it as a game where they can choose their own effort level and humor the other players a little... we'd all be better off. Tq140219bd

Quartz: Why I've finally joined Facebook on Facebook's tenth anniversary, 2014-Feb-4 by Gideon Lichfield

Google knows more about me than I myself do. LinkedIn and Twitter know a lot. Am I really protecting myself by keeping Facebook at bay?

So I’ll protect myself the way anyone should: by being careful. I won’t share or “like” much; I’ll use Facebook mostly passively. I’ll be selective about whom I friend, and I won’t friend anyone I need to protect. I’ll keep the privacy settings cranked up to the max and watch out for when Facebook quietly changes them.

And when I have to win the trust of suspicious people, I may just have to earn that trust through openness instead of by concealment. And that may not be such a bad thing.

Where we want press releases to go

Most press releases are the opposite of conversation. They need to be posted where they can be found. If you want to have a conversation, you can use publicity or Quora to generate a dialogue, which is much more valuable. Broadcasting of press releases is futile. In the end, press releases should not go, they should stay and be found. Tq130705ac2

Quartz: Is Quora Replacing the Press Release?, 2014-Feb-5 by Max Nisen

The thread on the question-and-answer site is was not orchestrated by Facebook, according to a Facebook official, but it’s exactly what corporate communications should be. It’s human, informative, and more revealing than the average press release or corporate blog post. You feel like you’re getting inside information rather than a canned statement, stylized presentation, or chummy missive....

Getting the backstory makes the product more compelling for users and gives them insight into things like how content is organized and loaded....

Quora serves as such a strong forum for corporate communications since it allows for an evolving narrative, and lets users connect with and respond to real employees.

How to look for bias

As a result of my internet use, I've become very picky about the source of my news. Tq-121029-ddI try to be open to new sources all the time, but I also subject them to inspection. If I can't find sufficient background on the publisher and author, I become very skeptical. If you know where your news and facts have been, you have a much better chance of noticing the bias.

NY Times: Scientific Pride and Prejudice, 2014-Feb-2 by Michael Suk-Young Chwe

To deal with the problem of selective use of data, the scientific community must become self-aware and realize that it has a problem. In literary criticism, the question of how one’s arguments are influenced by one’s prejudgments has been a central methodological issue for decades.

Sometimes prejudgments are hard to resist. In December 2010, for example, NASA-funded researchers, perhaps eager to generate public excitement for new forms of life, reported the existence of a bacterium that used arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA. Later, this study was found to have major errors. Even if such influences don’t affect one’s research results, we should at least be able to admit that they are possible.

Austen might say that researchers should emulate Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” who submits, “I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes and fears.” At least Mr. Darcy acknowledges the possibility that his personal feelings might influence his investigations....

Yet another reason to take control of our data

NY Times Opinion Pages: The Age of 'Infopolitics', 2014-Jan-26 by Colin Koopman

We understandably do not want to see ourselves as bits and bytes. But unless we begin conceptualizing ourselves in this way, we leave it to others to do it for us. Many government agencies and giant corporations are all too eager to continue the work of producing detailed data profiles of all of us. These profiles may be produced for varying purposes (targeting terrorists is not the same work as targeting consumers), but they all involve informational pictures of who we are — as well as who we can become. These agencies and corporations will continue producing new visions of you and me, and they will do so without our input if we remain stubbornly attached to antiquated conceptions of selfhood that keep us from admitting how informational we already are.