Here’s a lit­tle secret to kick­start your per­sonal blog: pub­lish a draft. Surely, you’ve been ago­niz­ing over some post for ages. It’s right there in Drafts. Pick one, clean it up a bit and publish.

In fact, I pub­lished one last week. It was there the whole time!

 Stop being such a per­fec­tion­ist. Let Twit­ter be your chan­nel for #hot­takes. Let the world know you can be thought­ful again and #Pub­lishADraft. If you do, you’ll feel amaz­ing. Promise. 

Use the hash­tag #Pub­lishADraft and let’s see if we can’t reboot a per­sonal blog or two.

Fixing a Hole in the Social Web


Last sum­mer, my friend Karl Mar­tino shared this post from Scott Rosen­berg on Face­book some time ago and I got a lit­tle excited. Could blog­ging really be back? I’ve writ­ten about the death of music blogs and Jere­miah declared the golden age of tech blog­ging dead back in 2011. What Rosen­berg hit on in his fol­low up — the migra­tory pat­terns of the “hive mind” — made me think less about plat­forms and more about the sin­gu­lar tool that enabled blogs to really become pop­u­lar: RSS.

Google Reader rode off into the sun­set back in 2013. Noth­ing really replaced it, despite a race to rebuild it. Before any­one declares blogging’s back, let’s be hon­est with our­selves: RSS made the bloggy core of the web pos­si­ble. Right now, I have a bunch of tabs open and I’m click­ing through to addi­tional posts and form­ing thoughts and responses. This was only pos­si­ble using “read it later” tools.  In the bloggy hey­day, I would sub­scribe to count­less blogs and refresh Google Reader end­lessly to keep up as they col­lected through­out the day. You’d think I was describ­ing Twit­ter or Tum­blr or Face­book, but these leaky net­works are sieves com­pared to the net RSS provided.

Two reflec­tions:

  1. the social web cre­ated the sense of FOMO that keeps us refresh­ing feeds cease­lessly so we make sure we don’t miss a thing. It’s impos­si­ble to be a part of the dia­logue if you miss it completely.
  2. The notion that “if news is impor­tant, it’ll find me” is true only if you hope to cement your solipsism.

In many respects. the social web has evolved into the online equiv­a­lent of Jacques Lacan and Judith But­ler cor­re­spond­ing in pub­lic via aca­d­e­mic jour­nals. We can all read the arti­cles, but they’re not really talk­ing to “us.” Sure, the social web enables us to par­tic­i­pate, but that par­tic­i­pa­tion too often feels like tweet­ing at celebri­ties, in the hopes of the odd fave or retweet.

I’m not sure any­thing can be done about that last bit. Part of the prob­lem of say­ing “blog­ging is back” in any mean­ing­ful way ignores how the scope and veloc­ity of infor­ma­tion online with­out new ways to cap­ture a daily digest of what hap­pened. Remem­ber when you’d check Google Reader and it would be loaded with updates from every blog you fol­lowed that reflected the lat­est press release hit­ting the wire? Now the social web is the same echo cham­ber that rever­ber­ates to reach every time zone online. What’s miss­ing from the social web today — and what made blog­ging in the early days so great — was that period where it felt like you “knew” “every­one” online. To bor­row from Bene­dict Ander­son, we can’t recap­ture those “imag­ined com­mu­ni­ties” that cre­ated a sense of inti­macy and shared under­stand­ing on the web.

The clos­est I’ve seen any­one come to acknowl­edg­ing this gap is ThinkUp, which takes stock of your activ­ity in the social web. But quan­ti­fy­ing activ­ity isn’t the same as chang­ing behav­ior. Bene­dict Evans tweet­stormed about “dis­cov­ery” and I think it sums things up nicely as it relates to how con­ver­sa­tion has evolved online. I’ll end here.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playlist


When Music 2.0 first arrived on the scene, it treated users like data entry clerks. Sure, every­one dressed it up as “user-generated con­tent,” but it all hinged on some moti­vated indi­vid­ual updat­ing a data­base for a ser­vice that wasn’t pay­ing them. Those ser­vices mostly died out, either because peo­ple lost inter­est or some­thing newer and shinier replaced them. In any case, they asked way too much of users.

The music ser­vices that sur­vived from that era under­stood fun­da­men­tally that their users chose their ser­vice because they wanted to lis­ten to music. Beats Music takes that a step fur­ther; rather than focus doggedly on “dis­cov­ery,” Beats recon­tex­tu­al­izes the music you love. For me, that means Beats rec­om­mends artists whose albums lan­guished for too long at the bot­tom of a box in a closet. Now I can fall in love with them all over again.

But that on it’s own isn’t enough to dis­tin­guish a music ser­vice from the rest of the pack. Curated playlists and push noti­fi­ca­tions do. Plenty of ser­vices offer the same library, give or take, but none were espe­cially good at antic­i­pat­ing what I wanted to hear. You could go search­ing for things, but that’s over­whelm­ing. Beats Music makes it sim­ple and offers sug­ges­tions. Instead of search­ing end­lessly for a par­tic­u­lar album, I just dive into an intro­duc­tory playlist of an artist I’ve overlooked.

Best of all? They hired really out­stand­ing crit­ics to pull together fan­tas­tic playlists. Beats didn’t just hire them to cre­ate playlists willy nilly; there’s real strat­egy at work. Try as I might to lis­ten to every­thing, I still sought crit­i­cal short­cuts or a point of entry into an artist’s body of work. If you’re a recov­er­ing com­pletist, you can famil­iar­ize your­self with Luke Vib­ert one moment and Way­lon Jen­nings the next. It doesn’t hurt that most playlists were curated by the same crit­ics I came up with in the Aughties.

Mostly, I’m just jeal­ous of kids who get to expe­ri­ence music like this. For more, here’s Eric Harvey’s essay on the devel­op­ment of stream­ing music over at Pitchfork.

The Art of January Releases


Malkmus and Jicks

It’s March and SXSW is wrap­ping up in Austin, which is the kick­off to the spring push in the music indus­try. What am I still pay­ing atten­tion, too? The lat­est Jicks record, Wig Out at Jag­bags. What else? The Against Me! album, Trans­gen­der Dys­pho­ria Blues.

Why? The answer is sim­ple. Both are Jan­u­ary releases. Jan­u­ary is a great month for media Mon­ey­ball. The owned the media cycle for a quiet month and noth­ing really rose to dethrone them in Feb­ru­ary, at least from a cov­er­age per­spec­tive in the social streams I fol­low. Will these albums be over­looked or given short shrift come year end? Sure, but who cares? How much are year end lists worth in 2014 any­how? (Could be a lot; tell me if I’m wrong.)

Jan­u­ary is the per­fect month to release an album. Ever since LCD Soundsys­tem released their debut in Jan­u­ary 2005, I’ve asked why more bands don’t do this. Break away from the March and Octo­ber cycle, make as much noise as pos­si­ble and then tour if you can. This is espe­cially genius with a “legacy” artist like Malk­mus, who has a pretty well-defined fan base. Maybe this bought him some addi­tional expo­sure. Jan­u­ary offers more “run­way” for an artist than the com­mer­cial claus­tro­pho­bia of March.

But why is it so smart to push an album before March rolls around?

A few reasons:

  • Crit­ics are just like us! They make res­o­lu­tions! Things like “I will lis­ten to more music this year.” Put out an album in Jan­u­ary and you’re the sole beneficiary.
  • There is no other news. I must’ve read 4 or more fan­tas­tic, gen­er­ous inter­views with Malk­mus and prob­a­bly twice as many with Against Me!‘s Laura Jane Grace.
  • Release an album in Jan­u­ary and you get expan­sive “nar­ra­tive space.” Malkmus’s story is nowhere near as grip­ping as Laura Jane Grace’s, yet the nar­ra­tive that he’s been with the Jicks longer than Pave­ment shone through and the cov­er­age human­ized him unlike ever before. The inter­play with his kids’ lis­ten­ing habits was fan­tas­tic and the image of him singing to Avicii in a mini­van amazed me.

If you still think release dates are mean­ing­ful inas­much as it allows you to pre­pare for a news cycle, break free of the old meth­ods. To apply some busi­ness speak from Havard Busi­ness Review, adopt a blue ocean strat­egy and get your client out there in the open. To bring it back to Billy Beane, find the mar­ket inef­fi­ciency and take advantage.

How to Use Twitter Like a Human Being


I love Twit­ter. It’s my favorite social net­work. I started using it in 2008 when I went to SXSW Music. I imme­di­ately saw its value for cov­er­ing live events. That fall, I used it exten­sively dur­ing the Phillies’ post­sea­son cam­paign. Twit­ter is a great plat­form for your pas­sions. Except when it isn’t.

Some­where along the way, Twit­ter changed. My friend Mark cap­tured one key dif­fer­ence in his tweet below.

For all the talk about being authen­tic and engag­ing on social, you’ll often find that the most fol­lowed accounts are noth­ing more than linkbots with a human face. It’s a head-scratcher. At a time when peo­ple com­plain of infor­ma­tion over­load, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple will fol­low accounts that recy­cle memes and other online flotsam.

If that doesn’t depress you, A Tale of Two Twit­ter Per­sonas will. MG Siegler writes:

For me, given my back­ground and line of work, that’s obvi­ously tech­nol­ogy. But I too have other inter­ests — shock­ing, I know. Film is def­i­nitely one. Beer is def­i­nitely another. And sports is way up there. Yes, some peo­ple in the tech indus­try are as obsessed with sports as any­one else in the world. Blasphemy!

What does per­sonal brand­ing mean when the most pop­u­lar social media accounts lack personality?

Anil Dash on Streams and Pages


I for­got that the stream ver­sus page debate started over a year ago. Here’s Anil Dash’s roundup.

As Choire notes, this really only works if you ditch own­ing your con­tent. There was an inter­est­ing debate on that last sum­mer. Marco Arment argued against Medium, while Scoble more or less stopped blogging.

I think this takes us back to Madri­gal on the stream. We’re liv­ing in a media envi­ron­ment where live­blog­ging is the norm. We want to fol­low break­ing news in real time and we want to watch heated debates unfold on Twit­ter from the social side­lines. But if we care enough, we want to read analy­sis, too.

Madrigal’s point on FOMO is crit­i­cal here. There are com­mu­ni­ties on the web that want to be in on every­thing as it hap­pens. That doesn’t work because under­stand­ing doesn’t scale. This may explain why jour­nal­ists TL;DR their own stuff in social. The chal­lenge isn’t a ques­tion of for­mat but rel­e­vance and the lat­ter is chal­lenged by the former.

We need to be bet­ter edi­tors in every sense. We need to iden­tify what’s impor­tant and nec­es­sary. We can’t dip our toe into the stream and learn by osmosis.

The Golden Age of Content Strategy


A few notes and links on the death of the blog, peak stream and the golden age of con­tent strat­egy. Please join the con­ver­sa­tion and share links in the comments.

  • First, Kot­tke at Nie­man Jour­nal­ism Lab. I don’t think the stream killed the blog. I don’t even think firsties killed the blog. What killed blogs for me was that once they matured as a medium, they were indis­tin­guish­able from the media they pur­port­edly replaced. I observed this among my fel­low music crit­ics, many of whom advanced from writ­ing about music on their per­sonal blogs to jobs at media out­lets where they took over dig­i­tal respon­si­bil­i­ties at those media prop­er­ties. I wrote about that phe­nom­e­non here. I don’t think it means the medium died; it’s that the pageview-driven busi­ness model and the edi­to­r­ial aspi­ra­tions are out of sync.
  • This brings me to Alexis Madrigal’s piece on the impor­tance of “now­ness” to the stream. We’re rac­ing faster down the infor­ma­tion super­high­way than ever before and we’re toss­ing all of our sou­venirs into Pocket, Instapa­per and Ever­note as we go. What Madri­gal gets absolutely right is how a fear of miss­ing out pow­ers the ambi­tion to read every­thing exhaus­tively. This is cer­tainly true among cer­tain dis­cur­sive cir­cles on the web. When I hit eject on music crit­i­cism, it was mere cul­tural moments before Odd Future hit. To this day, I have not heard Odd Future. This is not me say­ing, “I don’t even own a TV;” this is me say­ing that my life con­tin­ued with­out this infor­ma­tion. What Madri­gal longs for is the Inter­net of the past. He’s under­es­ti­mat­ing the Inter­net of the present.
  • Read­ers still crave des­ti­na­tions. Maybe the fetishiza­tion of the lon­gread goes too far, since we’re prob­a­bly just squir­rel­ing those arti­cles away for a day that never comes, but peo­ple still want to land some­where, at least for now. What Kot­tke and Madrigal’s pieces sug­gest to me is ush­er­ing in a golden age of con­tent strat­egy. Con­tent strat­egy was invented to improve busi­ness web­sites, but I’ve seen it applied for edi­to­r­ial, too. Dead­spin, among other places, does a great job repub­lish­ing sto­ries and giv­ing them new life, often decades later. I think that’s what Madri­gal wants from the web. That Inter­net is there if you want it.

Atten­tion still mat­ters most. The best way to over­come FOMO online is let­ting your friends tell you about sto­ries. You don’t need to have a “take” hol­stered for every topic out there. Your time and atten­tion are still very valu­able pos­ses­sions. Cher­ish them.