Finding the reasonComments

Patrick Rhone linked to a piece by Sarah K Peck on "silence, stillness and community" and I was so taken with it that I started to digest more of her blog.

In her previous post she writes about finding "something that turned my mind upside down."

Through detailing what it was that moved her so she became the catalyst for my own "something."

Consider this:

"It’s a relationship with the work that allows for the mystery to stay in the process. For the tantalizing feeling of not knowing, for the delight in the exploration."

And I realised where I've been going wrong. It cemented something in my mind that I've been skirting around but not fully grasping.

Sarah quotes that when we force ourselves into a routine the "discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point."

Yes, we need discipline to achieve our goals but forcing it upon ourselves above all else can be detrimental; we can end up resenting it and our work suffers as a consequence.

When I remarked that posting every day wasn't for everyone I didn't go far enough but Sarah's words hammered the point home.

There has to be a reason for showing up beyond doing so just to keep a streak going.

We need the mystery.

We don't need to gamify our lives in order to feel a sense of accomplishment; we need to reconnect with that delight, with the thrill of exploration when charting an uncertain course.

We need to spark the fires of curiosity and adventure, even in the mundane or routine, because there is a purpose for doing it.

If the only reason we can find is "because it must be done" then maybe we are on the wrong path and can no longer hear our inner-self shouting and screaming about its passions.

We must reconnect with that voice as, only then, will we remember why we do any of this at all.

#bypen

Finding the reason

Maybe I'm being too cynical about Medium. Maybe I'm overreacting to a lot of the negativity currently surrounding the company and its ever-shifting business model.

The Partner Program FAQ states:

"To launch the new Partner Program, we have invited a small initial group of writers and publishers."

Instead of being cynical perhaps I should feel flattered that I have been invited as part of this small group.

But only after reading through the terms and conditions are you advised that to receive payments as an individual it requires "a US-based bank account or debit card."

As my invitation was sent to a .uk email address I'm back to feeling like a statistic.

Status

So, I received an email inviting me to join the Medium Partner Program and get paid for what I publish. It's because I was there at the beginning in 2012 but the email also says: "and you're still writing today..."

Yes, I'm still writing but not on Medium; my last cross-posted piece was back in May.

I'm not reading anything into it, they've likely invited a lot of the early adopters just to get a broader spectrum of writers and articles. In fact, it's quite the opposite - if they'd seen my posting habits and read anything I've recently written about Medium they'd likely never consider me for the program.

Take this statement from Ev Williams during an interview:

"We have a ton of writers on Medium, and the majority of them aren’t really our target for our partner program. We don’t want to suggest that everybody who writes should get paid or try to get paid."

That I've got an email just makes it feel like I'm a statistic, nothing more then the result of an automated date check.

And that's not how to build trust in something you're trying to build.

Regardless, I've not posted anything exclusive to Medium - barring comments - for ages; I believe in everything being available openly, for free. If it's all on my blog first why do I then want to cross-post it behind a paywall, and why would anyone choose to pay to read it there?

Status

Making the switchComments

The Soulmen announced yesterday that they were switching to a subscription only model for one of my favourite apps: Ulysses.

From what I've seen the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Subscriptions are de rigueur for services but I have been largely dubious about them for software.

Max Seelemen wrote a very thorough and thought-provoking piece on Medium giving a good background into the decision for them to make the switch. He puts forward a very compelling argument.

He writes that the notion of a one-time purchase is a hangover from the days when you bought software in a box; he's right!

The way software is developed, distributed and updated has changed dramatically and the business models attached to it need to adapt to those changes.

Having previously bought the app for iOS (and struggling with that decision) I never felt that I could justify the significantly higher cost to re-purchase it on the Mac, based on my usage.

A low monthly cost (covering all my Apple devices in one subscription) removes that initial barrier and makes the app far more affordable.

So, last night, I made the switch, downloaded the new version from the App Store (on both the iPhone and MacBook) and immediately set up my subscription.

Making the switch

Writing in clusters

I have written before about having small ideas rather than big ones - unable to take them beyond a certain point - but it goes deeper than just being impatient to get my thoughts out.

I seem to share my comments in clusters.

I tend not to put out a single post on something but a number; a series of connected, progressive thoughts with the ideas (often contradictory) morphing as they go.

The process is visible.

Sometimes that can be seen within a single post, its trajectory changing as I work through a topic. Very much a case of thinking out loud or, rather, on the page.

Then, after reaching what amounts to a conclusion, the subject is put to one side, exhausted, leaving the appearance of a brief obsession.

It's just the way I work.

Writing in clusters

Trying too hard

Stop trying to be profound.

Not everything has to be a great pronouncement.

We can be guilty of trying too hard, I know I can, constantly trying to make a big impression when being honest and natural can make the biggest impression of all.

Perhaps if we say something extraordinary that next post will be the one that blows up, goes viral, rockets us to stardom.

Yes, an individual post can get attention but it's often just luck or timing - the impermanence is crushing. Once the fuss dies down you have to go back to normal and find a way to carry on.

Not every post is going to be that post. Not every post has to contain an earth-shattering revelation.

Forcing profundity begets insincerity.

Trying too hard

Self-hosted microblogging, where does it fit?

With the official rollout announcement of Micro.blog to Kickstarter backers I find myself thinking about exactly how I'm going to use it and what impact it may have on my current activity.

It also brings back to mind the issues related to cross-posting I previously considered.

Micro.blog is a social platform, there's no getting away from it and more on this later, but one where users have the option to own their content - at least their original posts as opposed to replies they might make directly on the service.

The self-hosting of microposts creates a multi-layered environment where intent and purpose are key. New posts will originate from your own blog (syndicated into the social feed) or from within a client application (then posted back to your own property) and I can see where you post influencing what you post.

Conversations become something separate, their own thing held entirely within the social platform. Webmentions may provide reply notification to your blog but the conversation itself is purely, and should be, a social construct thanks to the context of its creation.

Audiences

By self-hosting microposts they are already being cross-posted which gives a duality to the content and, perhaps, a distinct separation between intended audiences.

I have fully embraced microblogging as another means of posting to my blog, and will continue to do so even if Micro.blog closes or I decide to stop using it. This extra layer, however, makes me think about these different audiences and how the different types of post are exposed to them.

As a social channel also becomes a distribution channel I wonder (and worry) about the duplication of content and exactly how connected, or separate, the blog and microblog should actually be.

A visitor to the blog will see all post types but a follower on the social platform needs the link shared for a full post in order for it to be visible. This, however, creates that duplication for the direct visitor.

There is already a division of sorts in that the main RSS feed does not include the short form items but should this extend to the site itself?

A first world problem if ever there was one but one that, I feel, deserves at least passing attention to preserve the experience of each audience.

Engage

For a blogger, like myself, the intent is usually to merge these audiences wherever possible, converting followers into readers.

But this will only happen with a subset of the former.

Any conversion from follower to regular reader, however small, relies on engagement within the social environment.

Despite my recent dissatisfaction with social networks I see Micro.blog as an opportunity to begin again and define an environment that is more conducive to sensible, tolerant discussion.

The ownership and enhanced proximity to our words (because they are also held on our own sites) combined with the "safety first" approach to community management means that this should become an environment we want to engage with rather than just a self-promotional link dump.

If that was the only reason to use it then we might as well stick with Twitter.

Self-hosted microblogging, where does it fit?

A wish list of sorts

The more I use Workflow not only do I realise how much it can do but how much other products can't. While they can be very good at simplifying an individual process there is a lot more they could do to make it more powerful.

And not just apps but iOS as well.

Apple deliberately made iOS simple and intuitive; you want photos, you go to the photos app; you want a particular document type, you go to the app that handles it.

No messing around with a file system.

It was considered cumbersome and unnecessary on a mobile device - by and large they're right. It does, however, create a few annoyances.

iCloud, for example, is supposed to act as a direct extension to your phone's internal storage and acts pretty seamlessly but thrusts us firmly back in the realm of the file system.

The juxtaposition can be jarring and leaves you wanting.

Frustration

One particular frustration is when working with images. Many apps let you access your images, edit them to your hearts content and re-save them but you are stuck with useless and uninformative names like IMG_2724.

To work around this I have had to create a workflow that lets me select an image, convert it from the default jpeg to png (my preferred format) then enter a descriptive name before giving the option to delete the original.

Only by changing the image format can you reliably rename the new image and distinguish it from the original.

It shouldn't be this hard.

Because everything is self-contained in iOS it was obviously not considered necessary to even see file names but a big part of using a smartphone is sharing the data elsewhere.

Yes, you can upload to the cloud, rename the file and share from here but the extra step shouldn't be needed. Apple should provide a way to rename items directly on the device.

Features

In my (very) quick comparison of Drafts and Ulysses I made a few suggestions as to how each could benefit from features in the other but my desired improvements for Ulysses only stretched to one item:

  • easy arrangement of paragraphs within a sheet

Tim Nahumck wrote a very good piece giving his wish list for Drafts and Greg Pierce, the application's developer, is currently hard at work making Drafts 5 a reality so we've got that covered.

But, as I have continued to use Ulysses and established other workflows I find additional areas that I would like to see improved:

  • collapsible sections (as Tim suggested for Drafts)
  • intelligent clipboard contents insertion
  • rename images when uploading to WordPress
  • use an image from the post as the featured image

Ulysses is an incredibly strong app but a few refinements could enhance the user experience.

Intelligent clipboard contents insertion would look at what is held in the clipboard and used accordingly. For example, if the clipboard holds a URL and go to make a link that URL would be automatically populated.

Being stuck with Apple's image naming convention is a huge annoyance. If iOS will not allow you to change file names (and I doubt iOS 11 or native automation will change this) then it would be ideal for apps like Ulysses to include it when posting. *See the update below.

Selecting a featured image for a blog post is also ungainly; if the featured image is also included in the post body then it is uploaded twice. It would be good if Ulysses let you select an image from within the post to reduce this duplication.

Filling the gaps

With the news that Workflow will receive no more meaningful updates you can't help but feel we are on borrowed time.

Apple will most likely integrate a degree of automation directly into iOS and finally remove the Workflow app from the App Store.

It is, therefore, imperative that third party apps - especially premium ones like Ulysses - step up to plug any gaps that are bound to be left.

Update: As advised by Ulysses support, an image can be renamed by typing a new filename in the URL field when inserting the image. While the featured image can be chosen during upload (it will be the first image attachment) this still doesn't solve the problem of items being uploaded twice and attached images cannot be renamed in the same way.

A wish list of sorts

It’s not the words but what they represent

"Writing is more than the singular act of putting words on the page" - me.

We are constantly reminded that writing is, in fact, multiple, distinct processes. Steps on the journey from beginning to end.

No matter how closely those steps fall, or how short any one of them may be, they are still there:

  • Ideation
  • Creation
  • Publication

I've taken a slight liberty with the nomenclature but they amount to: the formulation of ideas, drafting those ideas into "works" and ensuring they are fit for publication (editing) before finally hitting the button.

But look at them.

They look so ugly and awkward when laid out like that, too rigid for such a beautiful process.

Made up

Ideation is such a crappy word. It sounds made up in an "I'm trying to be smart" kind of way.

The bastard love child desperately seeking affection from resentful parents both regretting the illicit tryst that created it.

But, remember, all words are made up words. Someone, somewhere, at some time, first made them, first used them and ascribed them meaning.

Not all can be as elegant as those penned by Shakespeare but if they sound right they stick, spread, morph.

That's how language is formed.

Words, language, they are our means to express, describe, interpret, but sometimes the words we have are not enough.

Sometimes things seem so special, so unique, so overwhelming that we feel our words cannot possibly do them justice.

We stand back in awe wishing we could communicate just how we feel, wishing we could share this exact experience with others.

But we can't. We don't have the means.

And that's when new words, new phrases get created. In our desperation we find new ways, apparent nonsense that somehow perfectly encapsulates the moment.

They can seem stupid at first but they are symbolic, more an expression of an idea - an emotional mnemonic.

But once we unlock their meaning, internalise them, we see what lies behind and recognise it within ourselves.

It’s not the words but what they represent

The battle between productive and creative

Creative conflict is a common theme for me.

Although I am happy with my posting workflow I am always on the lookout for ways to be more creative, more productive, but what does that even mean?

I'm an addict.

I download new apps all the time - just in case. It's rare they stick around as I don't really need them - Drafts and Ulysses are the workhorses that get things done.

That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, you just don't know how until you stumble across it.

Fragmented efforts

The desire to come up with original, thought provoking stuff, having something to say, is pitted against the pull of always producing more - churning out the words and keeping the wheels turning.

Not always for publishing but just to keep the gears greased.

I feel trapped by productive but scared by the need to be creative, each brings its own pressures.

It irks me that I don't have a daily writing habit, one where I use a particular tool or process to "create" (and I use the term loosely in this context) regular works but I generally write every day In one form or another.

I split my efforts between multiple locations: Drafts, Ulysses, sometimes pen and paper and have now installed the Prompts app. Where I write largely depends on what I'm doing and at what stage of completion that happens to be.

I imagine this disrupts me from "getting into flow" but if I'm already working on something I doubt the value of starting another session elsewhere.

Part of me thinks it shouldn't matter where I write, only that I do, whereas another part thinks I should be solely focusing on one location (perhaps two if we differentiate between planning and finalising posts.)

Yet another conflict.

I have been switching to pen and paper for free writing when I have nothing else on the go.

Prompts comes in at a similar point; it is intended as a daily tool offering prompts to get you started (hence the name) and then monitors your daily writing regimen.

But here I have an issue.

Can we truly free write on a mobile device when we are so intimately connected to the input? We almost can't help but edit ourselves while we type unlike with a pen where mistakes must remain where they were made.

Indecision.

Create or produce

The two words are synonymous but, in this context, far from the same thing.

They are used interchangeably but it is like the difference between knowing and unsurety, instinct and reasoning.

Being productive is just getting shit done, cranking it out over and over. Productive is the implementation of process.

Being creative, however, is more playful; it is the search for something new, something different.

Creative allows your mind to frolic and wander, exploring different paths and ideas. Creative doesn't care if you make mistakes, it revels in them. Mistakes guide us and can open new avenues.

Mistakes can be perfect.

Each in their place

There has to be a balancing act between creative and productive. The two circle each other, seeking the opportunity to strike, and we bounce between them - one inspiring or triggering the other.

Productivity leads to creativity which, in turn, leads us back to productivity.

Productivity is the daily free writing session, cranking out a set word count to meet a target, but what it unleashes - now that's the interesting part.

It opens the way for the creative side of ourselves, releasing those original thoughts and ideas trapped within, the relevations we are otherwise blinded to.

Once creativity starts to flow, and we know what we want to say, we again become productive but this time with a purpose.

The battle between productive and creative

How I became a suggested writer on Medium

For the past week or so Medium has been telling me I'm a "suggested writer" in the Writing tag and that's how people have been finding me and following.

It's not "top writer" and I wouldn't have expected to be given that title but it's a reassuring shot in the arm.

As to whether it's automated or manually curated, I don't know.

To be honest I don't know how I became "suggested" - it's not been according to any particular plan but I can't really complain.

The story of me

I am not overly successful (most of my 1200+ followers were grandfathered from Twitter) and I'm not qualified, academically or otherwise, to lecture people on form or best practice.

I'm probably among the most unqualified.

But there is one thing I'm uniquely qualified to do, just like everyone else, and that is to tell the story of me, how I write and what it means to me.

Writing is more than the singular act of putting words on the page. It is insight, adventure and discovery, it is all those efforts behind the words to help get my thoughts to screen. Working on my blog, setting up workflows on my phone to better facilitate the writing process, it's all part of writing for me.

Writing is sanity mixed with uncertainty. It is being able to express yourself in any way you want without always knowing what's going to come out.

It's unpredictable and often frustrating but that only makes the joy of creation that much sweeter when it works.

Keep on keeping on

If the suggested writers list is curated then I can only say thank you but, if as I suspect, it is automated then it at least illustrates consistency and a degree of dedication to the process.

Write.

Keep doing it, keep using the same tags, keep following the passion. Eventually the algorithms (or maybe even people) will notice.

It's not why I do it but it's nice to know someone, or something, is paying attention.

How I became a suggested writer on Medium

Two powerful ways every writer can achieve success

If you read a lot of essays on writing advice there are two core "musts" that appear over and over again:

  1. Write, and write some more. In fact, just keep writing.
  2. Become a better writer.

There is an absolute wealth of other "musts" that exist on the periphery but it boils down to those two.

Write and become a better writer.

The first is obvious but what makes us (or our writing) better? How do we define success?

Rules

Well, I've already followed one golden rule: outline the premise to your argument in the introduction and use the rest of the post to discuss or prove it. Even if readers only skim the beginning before clicking away they've still got the crux of it, right?

Actually, I've followed two rules. (I'm starting to feel nauseous.)

Headlines, we are told, are everything and the success of a post can literally hang on those few short words. A plethora of headline analysis tools litter the web aiming to improve this one line above all others.

With more content (on even one site like Medium) than any of us could ever hope to read there needs to be a reason to pick yours over all others.

The headline to this post (purely a satirical experiment to test the response and not something I would ever normally consider using) scored 71 in one such tool.

Is that good?

I suppose so; it scored more than my original idea "The two simple things every writer must do" which came in at 68.

I could have gone with "How to succeed with these powerful writing tips" reaching the heady heights of 76 but I think I would have actually thrown up a little.

Headlines that don't follow a recognised formula or trope are deemed generic and we are steered, full rudder, from them.

In a time when we decry the incessant use of clickbait, why are headlines such as these still ruling the roost? We hate seeing them and I'd argue they are the generic ones.

So, what actually makes us better writers?

With most things there is definitely value in turning up every day - the more we practice the better we get but, there's that word again: better.

It is so subjective.

When writing, does it mean that we have a wider vocabulary or more constructive use of analogy and metaphor? How about that aforementioned adherence to rules? Do we need to always open a vein and bleed on the page?

Yes, and no.

All of them and none of them.

Quantity alone does not make us better, at least publishing quantity. We can post every day, twice a day, more, and still never improve.

Turning up, however, opens us to exploration, inspiration, flow. Turning up allows us to channel our words more effectively - we get used to ourselves and our thoughts, our quirks and faults, and recognise them for what they are.

Being a better writer is being a better conduit, an effective pathway for what's on the inside to reach those on the outside.

It is not just about the rules and mechanics of language but how effectively that language is used to convey thoughts and ideas. Being a better writer is being able to translate thought to word, to emotion and response.

Being a better writer is putting in the work learning, researching, and hooking into the prevailing psyche of society.

Being a better writer is having the ability to impart meaning and promote understanding; to take the reader inside our head so they can see what we see, know what we think.

The mark of success

Writing more will probably lead to an increase in views - it's only natural. 10 clicks each on 10 items is always going to feel better than 10 clicks on 2; it's that dopamine hit we get from social media.

But is that really success? It's just numbers? How do we judge it?

Consider Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who waited 55 years before publishing another book which turned out to be a first draft of its predecessor.

Lee didn't turn up again and again, in fact she retired from public life. Maybe it's because she didn't need to. She got lucky that her first novel captured the zeitgeist and went, what we would now call, viral.

Success is not predicated upon, nor necessarily indicated by, quantity.

The key

Forget what you've read. Forget the endless litany. Forget the optimisation tools. There are only, really, two keys to writing success:

  1. hard work, and
  2. luck

By working hard and turning up we can actually become better writers then maybe, just maybe, have an influence on that all important second factor.

Two powerful ways every writer can achieve success

Creative conflict and variations

One thing I have always tried to achieve with my writing has been to make it flow, not just within an individual piece but in the longer term as an ongoing reflection of who I am and what I think.

I've lost count of the times I have called my blog a conversation with myself because I keep referring to previous posts and revisiting old themes.

But there is a constant conflict raging on and off the page.

When I recently wrote that Medium Series felt "like reclaiming the normalcy of the old web when weblogs and journals lived up to their name" I meant that they were designed to have that same feeling of flow; one thing to the next, a natural progression.

But this conflicts with the need to be original, new, different, a need that plagues me - a reluctance to return even though the desire for that flow is strong.

This is why mastering Series is a hard skill: to be truly comfortable with the same thing, or variations of it, for an extended period. To be confident in it such that its pursuance tells an engaging story that retains the interest and curiosity of the observer.

I become frustrated when unable to think of something new but equally so when I find myself back at a topic covered before - often more than once.

As with notes...

Then I think back to the great composers, the true masters of their craft, and how they employed variations within their music.

Speed things up or slow them down. Change some notes or the key. Take a refrain and expand it into a whole new piece. Maybe create a counterpoint.

Each composition has a common grounding, a familiarity even, yet an individuality - a different expression or vantage point. Perhaps even a different emotional trigger or response.

Variations are a means of extending or reworking an original so why can't we do this with writing?

They say nothing is original but everything is. The same piece of music will elicit a different response under different conditions or states of mind. Virtuoso performers will play the exact same notes with their own interpretation and differently on different days.

Imagine the power of taking the familiar and deliberately altering it to emphasise those different states.

...so with words

Writing can be deeply personal, moving, affecting - if we can provoke such a response with notes why not with words?

The familiarity is a safe haven, a touchpoint designed to calm and steady us before we head off into the great unexplored.

Take those themes, embrace and reassess them on a new day, under new conditions. Change the words, change the focus, reverse their course.

Spin out a single section into a new work. Examine it, repeat it until you are deep into the words themselves and even the spaces between them, exploring every facet and void.

Slow the cadence forcing author and audience alike to dwell on each thought a moment longer; or create a counterpoint to illustrate the differences and holes in our interpretations.

Expose the nuance and free yourself from the strict rigidity of a single point of view - conflict demonstrates true thought.

Be patient.

And who knows, the next variation might be the one world has been waiting for.

Creative conflict and variations

One year on

Today marks a year since I decided to reboot the blog and take back ownership of what I was writing.

Not including this one, there are 460 total posts since the move from my old domain and self-hosted SharePoint site which ran from 2003 to April 2008.

Prior to the reboot there were only 296 posts in 8 years - not very impressive for someone whose social profiles say he is a writer.

But there were some big gaps.

At various points I have been unhappy with what and the way I write, and the whole process (to put it mildly) and stepped away from writing - or at least from blogging - only returning when I felt I had something to say.

Allowing for these gaps there was an average of about a post per week during these 8 years but this obviously isn't an accurate reflection.

The last proper post before I last walked away was on 29th October 2013. After that I was "social blogging" on Google+ and spent a little while posting only on Medium before deciding to regain control and use Medium mainly as a distribution channel.

Decisions

In addition to relaunching the blog there have been other key decisions:

Since this time last year there have been 164 posts of all types: post, micropost and microcast. A much better return.

And a more enjoyable one.

Perhaps more than anything these decisions have been instrumental in helping me realise exactly what my blog can be.

It is more than just writing essays and thought pieces, it is my voice on the web. Now, literally with the microcast.

A voice that I have found again.

A voice doesn't always speak in grand, sweeping monologues and soliloquies (sometimes it needs only a few words) and a blog doesn't have to either.

One year on

A story is only as long as its telling.

Stories are told and then they are done. Some are longer, some are shorter but they are all stories: self contained, self sufficient. Complete.

I like that idea.

It's ironic as I often feel that my thoughts are left unfinished, that they have an unsatisfactory conclusion but, in their own way, this is how those stories were supposed to be told at that time - that was all there was.

Not a word more, not a word less.

A story is only as long as its telling.

Slow writing

I was inspired after being pointed to Mike Caulfield's speech "The Garden and the Stream" and his subsequent work on Wikity and wondered about some kind of self contained wiki-esque setup alongside the blog for research purposes.

He refers to his data collection, linking and iteration process as "slow writing" where ideas build over time using ongoing research to update topics.

I make notes but they are not organised, isolated scraps of information that may have sparked an idea but get lost.

I have tried Spark Files and lists, various methods but the result is invariably the same: the ideas get lost and my enthusiasm for them disappears.

I'm a fast writer.

If I can't get something out in one go that's usually it. Gone. Done. On to the next.

The recent exception being the Zuckerberg manifesto piece which I managed to keep working on for three days! I think the importance of the topic forced me to stay interested.

This is why self-hosted microblogging has been so enticing. It goes beyond the social networked element as it enables me to publish small thoughts that don't require deep dives and long processes but still makes me feel like I'm posting regularly, even if it doesn't appear in my main feed.

To my knowledge no one is currently reading these little missives but that's not actually the point right now.

Notes and research

So, I realise I need a system whereby I can make notes or store research items and they don't get lost. They need to be connected so that I can follow the paths between them and, most importantly, I can create them quickly on my phone.

I have considered wiki plugins for WordPress before but was never sure what I would do with them. A quick search, however, revealed Yada Wiki which creates a custom post type and allows for reasonably easy linking between entries via built in shortcodes.

One box ticked.

After installing it I realised that it exposes the custom post type via Workflow making for simpler posting from mobile.

We could be on to something.

Setting it up

A stream flows by whereas a garden grows around us, blooms. Caulfield explains how a garden allows for unique paths to be walked each time we visit and that there is no one true way to view it.

It is this thought, and its application to information, that influenced me to pursue this project. In doing so I set a few goals and technical objectives.

I wanted to keep it self contained and primarily for my own use. While everything will effectively be publicly accessible (it's just a case of knowing the addresses) I don't want it to be obviously available.

To achieve this I had to ensure a few things were configured:

  • the link to the wiki will only show if logged in as admin - so that's only going to be me - using a quick role check: if ( current_user_can('administrator') )

  • the main site search had to be restricted to just posts so wiki items did not appear while searching from a wiki page would only query the wiki. Rather than calling the default get_search_form() I needed to manually add the form code adding an extra input to determine the search scope:

[code lang=text]
<input name="post_type" type="hidden" value="post" />
or
<input name="post_type" type="hidden" value="yada_wiki" />
[/code]

  • The right version of the search form needs to be called based on where you are on the site and we must consider that the search results page takes you out of context. The above inputs add additional parameters to the URL so it is an easy check:

[code lang=text]
<?php $url = $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI']; if ( !is_singular( 'yada_wiki' ) && (strpos($url,'yada_wiki') == false) ) { ?>
[/code]

I duplicated and modified my previous posting Workflow for use with the wiki, opening the entry for further editing such as adding tags and cross-links.

Unfortunately, the custom categories and tags created by the plugin are not available to Workflow so additional manual work is required to complete each entry.

Perhaps this isn't entirely a bad thing.

Ready to go

I feel like I've set up the basis of a very simple but usable framework for logging, keeping and cross referencing information that I may practice slow writing.

I haven't finalised exactly how it will look and how I will use it; I think it will need a reasonable amount of data before this becomes apparent.

I will allow myself to be guided rather than try to impose a potentially limiting process.

Slow writing

Pioneer spiritComments

I used to be an early adopter, I was among the first to put my name down for anything.

I joined Twitter early before hardly anyone even knew what it was, or what it could be. I signed up for every clone that came after and virtually every other service that appeared.

I have long abandoned social accounts strewn all across the web because I just had to be there and try "the new thing." Some accounts I've closed but most I've forgotten so, if the service survives, they exist as little forgotten pieces of a fragmented social identity.

Bragging rights

I was a beta tester for anything I could get my hands on, a total geek veering into nerd territory.

I used to think that being at the forefront was an adventure, an opportunity to see and shape the future but, much of the time, it was for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be first to be cool, for bragging rights.

The realisation that I didn't need to be this person, combined with a period of consolidation and stagnation on the social web, meant that I stopped diving headlong into things.

A few products seemed exciting but weren't really sticky for me and the dominance of the major players, gathering data into their silos, meant any new players didn't really stand a chance.

App.net was an attempt at breaking the control of the big social companies but, while it was a very solid product and had massive potential, seemed to come from the wrong place. It was born out of bitterness and resentment of how Twitter had treated the developer community.

It was incredibly capable but became synonymous with its proof of concept app Alpha - an ad free Twitter clone. Most couldn't see beyond this and its closure was, sadly, inevitable.

Is it time?

Now, micro.blog has got me excited again. It takes us back to the roots of the open web, to good old fashioned RSS and hosting our own content.

The pioneer spirit of the old web feels like it's making a comeback.

There may be a frustration at the status quo and the dominance (and long term uncertainty) of the major platforms, but micro.blog strikes me as a genuine attempt to build something that improves and simplifies short form web publishing whilst leaving control in the hands of authors.

Why should it survive when so many others have failed?

Although micro.blog will act like Twitter - there will be an app with a timeline where you follow others, reply and favourite posts - it is not just a social network but an extension of our existing blogs.

Control and ownership are paramount.

Against a backdrop of online abuse and fake news there is a real sea change, a rising swell of distrust. Algorithms are everywhere with their inherent biases and, although they promise to show you more of what you like, it is becoming harder than ever to see what you want.

Compromise

We have traded privacy for convenience but are always going to be on the losing side of that deal while networks rely on advertising and lock-in to survive. Everything on the social web is about compromise.

Medium's recent move may be a step in the right direction but, with a general reluctance to pay for content, there is no guarantee of a new business model succeeding.

App.net may have come too soon, maybe the web wasn't ready, or the environment that spawned it may have been too toxic for it to flourish.

But attitudes are changing. Perhaps the time is right for a new approach and something like micro.blog can succeed.

Things feel different now.

Pioneer spirit

Forgetting

Over time I forget a lot of what I've already written. Although each post will be tempered and coloured by new experiences I don't like to repeat myself without adding extra value or insight.

It frustrates me that I have had thoughts and ideas which haven't sunk in, haven't become part of my conscious reasoning.

Perhaps this is the result of writing when tired, when the subconscious comes to the fore and spews out whatever is held within.

That in itself is no bad thing, the unconscious act of creation is perhaps the most honest, the most insightful, but a lasting conscious memory of it would make it more real.

It's almost like trying to adopt the product of my subconscious as though it was an external influence.

It seems strange to think that I am seeking to internalise something that has already come from inside me.

It is the transition from subconscious to conscious that makes it more valid, to take those crazy thoughts and rationalise them under the scrutiny of my externally projected psyche.

It feels weird when these minipiphanies arise from nowhere, thoughts emerging fully formed as though created by another then handed to you.

They don't feel part of you but are actually part of you in the realest sense; a translation from thought to word to truth.

Aligning the internal mechanisms with the external message.

Based on Write365 - 16th June 2014

Forgetting

Is federated microblogging about to become a reality?

Way back in 2008 Dave Winer wrote "Microblogging should be decentralized" arguing that reliance on a single, for profit platform such as Twitter was a bad idea.

Admittedly, this was against the backdrop of the fail whale but the idea of a federated service seemed sound - the catch would be that Twitter would have to enable it and build the required tools (or allow developers to build them and we all know how that went!)

In 2011 I wrote a post arguing that calls for a federated network were probably unrealistic but I just stumbled across a Kickstarter project that may have changed my mind.

Micro.blog

Manton Reece, a developer and podcaster, is writing a book called "Indie Microblogging" but also developing a new service called, unsurprisingly, micro.blog using RSS to deliver updates.

Micro.blog will be a combination of a paid platform to host microblogs (no advertising here) and a social network allowing you to follow updates from others, reply etc. It will also be open allowing you to connect your own blog rather than relying on the centralised hosting.

Twitter clones and alternatives have come and gone but this is something I would really like to see succeed so I've backed it on Kickstarter.

Why not check it out.

Is federated microblogging about to become a reality?

Obsession and accidental writing goals

Although I have resolved to read more on philosophy this year, which is prompting some posts in examination, I deliberately never pledged to any specific writing goals for 2017.

There are tags and publications on Medium - such as "100 Naked Words" and the "52 Week Writing Challenge" - encouraging people to publish more regularly but I didn't want to commit to anything like this after Write365.

It looks, however, as though I have fallen in without even trying.

I am like a dog with a new toy or, rather, I am the new toy with a dog that grabs me and won't let go until it has exhausted itself or is distracted by something else.

Ideas grip me.

We talk about habit and routine but, often, things are more like an obsession: I become deeply immersed, focused to the point of exclusion until the obsession has run its course.

I will still not commit to these accidental writing goals, even though I am currently surpassing them.

There is no telling how long this current obsession will last.

Obsession and accidental writing goals