I’m Building Something Again

When I joined Facebook back in 2006 or 2007, I thought it was new and exciting to connect with friends I hadn’t seen since high school. And it was exciting for a while.

By the time the 2016 election rolled around, Facebook had become a platform to spout your political views and argue with anyone who didn’t espouse them. Rinse and repeat until Trump took over the white house and I’d had enough.

Goodbye Facebook.

Goodbye Twitter.

Hello, my old blog!

But I’d changed. I wasn’t in the habit of writing longer posts, and I assumed posts shouldn’t be fleeting, short thoughts like I added to Facebook and Twitter over the past decade.

Then I noticed something that Dave Winer, author of Scripting News, was doing. Each day he was adding one or more short posts to his blog. He might add four or most posts a day and yet none of them would add up to more than a paragraph. Was he treating his blog like one might treat adding content to Facebook or Twitter? I dunno, and I didn’t care.

I found myself coming back to his blog a few times a day. If the content was interesting, who the hell cares about the word count? I decided to do the same last week. I’ve only managed to add a post a day, but they are much shorter than what I used to post.

It feels great to get back to my blog. I’m building something again that doesn’t belong to anyone but me. And I don’t feel any pressure to wait till I have that polished thought to post.

Thanks, Dave, for getting me back on track.

Why Write

When I first began jotting down my thoughts about 12 years ago, I wrote for one person: me. I didn’t give much thought to what I wrote about. On the rare occasion I was proud of a post, I’d tell Kim and she’d read it and encourage me to continue writing.

It wasn’t until 2004 when I wrote about walking away from a job that I realized a few people were following what I wrote. When a woman emailed to say that post had encouraged her to quit her job I wondered what I had done.

That’s when I began to consider why I continued to write. Those same thoughts have crept into my mind on a number of occasions.

Lately I’ve thought about how my writing may affect my children. I often write about the highs and lows of being a father, but I know they may not appreciate making those details public as they get older. I’ve begun to discuss that with them and will respect their decision even if it means I keep some experiences private. I suspect I often write about my children to avoid writing about my struggles in balancing a career with fatherhood.

Years later, I still don’t have a good answer when people ask why I write. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I don’t want to be the type of father whose children rely on my writings in order to find out what I’m about because I wasn’t around.  I want them to know why there’s no sport quite like baseball or why Zelda: Ocarina of Time is better than most games on the market today.

When my parents found notes written by my grandmother after her death, it made me wish that I had gotten to know the part of her that came through in the letters.

I don’t want my children or grandchildren to say the same about me.

You Write A Blog?

I met someone I knew from high school a few week ago. We shared experiences that have taken place over the 20+ years since we last spoke along with the usual, “Have you kept in contact with so and so?” questions.

We talked for a few more minutes. She showed me a picture of her family. I had left my iPhone, that contained a number of pictures, back at the office. So I said, “I have a few pictures of my kids posted on my blog” and gave her the URL.

“You write a blog?” she said. I could tell from her reaction that she was surprised. Maybe realizing how I might take that, she quickly added, “It’s just that…I only remember you being into sports”.

I didn’t take offense. Probably because this identical conversation has taken place at least a half dozen times over the past couple of years. And partially because most of my time in high school was focused on sports. That’s all I gave people to remember me by.

What few of my friends knew about me back then was that I enjoyed writing. I began keeping a journal at 14 years old and continued to jot down my thoughts until I returned from Germany. I returned from Germany having added over 300 pages to my journal during one of the busiest times of my life. I often wrote while sitting on trains crossing the German countryside or by flashlight late at night while trying not to wake my companion.

Over time, I became more confident in my writing skills. I purchased a thesaurus and spent hours looking up words I’d never spoke or written before. I fell in love with the Far Side comic and the way Gary Larson selected words that were intrinsically funny. The cartoon below is one of my favorites. The picture itself is goofy, but the word, ‘vigorously’, is what makes me laugh out loud each time I read it.

farside

Comic writers have so little space in which to get their humor across that each word must be precise and carefully selected. Larson would be a pro at Twitter and texting.

I no longer have to pull out my thesaurus or dictionary. With the internet, almost every tool I need to write is a few keystrokes away. One of my favorite Google Chrome extensions is Google Dictionary which gives me the meaning of any word I double-click. I still reference an online Thesaurus when a word eludes me.

But nothing replaces sitting at my computer and writing. Don’t wait for the perfect topic to pop in your head. Just start writing and you’ll find that topics and themes will come to you more easily and more often than when you’re staring at your monitor. It doesn’t hurt to read books about good writing. This is my favorite such book I read this past year.

And the next time someone acts surprised when I tell them I write a blog, I’m going to saying, “I needed something to fall back on when the Yankees didn’t draft me”.

Trust Is All That Matters

I spent four months in Rock Springs, WY before moving to the Seattle area. During my time in Rock Springs, I rented a small apartment and didn’t have many friends outside of work. But over time I got to know a man who managed a small print and frame business. One afternoon he asked me to lunch. I was excited to finally make a friend.

But when I showed up for lunch, he was dressed in a suit and tie. I thought that was odd, but didn’t realize what I’d walked in to until he pulled out a large white binder and said, “There’s something I’d like to share with you”.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, my new friend wanted to “share” the Amway dream. I felt used. I pushed my lunch away and spent the next 10 minutes coming up with excuses to leave.

I thought back to this experience as I read several articles discussing Twitter advertising from Robert Scoble and Steven Hodson. I respect both of these guys, and felt I’d chime in with a few thoughts of my own on the issue.

Twitter has always felt like a casual conversation among friends to me. It reminds me of the old days on IRC chat where people sat around and shot the breeze for hours. But I can’t imagine sitting around with a group of guys on a Saturday afternoon when suddenly one guy stands up and yells, “23-inch Dell Monitor on SALE NOW! Use Referral Code: 12301”.

Can you imagine this same person shouting out ads every five sentences? How about only once every time you got together?

No way. We’d kick his butt to the curb the 2nd time he pulled that stunt. And that’s how in-Tweet advertising feels me. It feels shady and unauthentic. Why would I click on some random link so someone else can get paid when I don’t see the value?

Now I’m not going to unfollow someone the first time they send an ad across my screen. But I’ll scrutinize the relationship to see if their other tweets are of such high value that it’s worth the occasional ad noise. If not, I’ll unfollow.

Both Robert and Steve mention Chris Pirillo as someone who uses uses his blog, Facebook and Twitter to push ads and coupons on his followers. I like Chris’ sense of humor and have followed him for many years. I saw him speak at WordCamp Seattle this year and find him to be intelligent and thoughtful. He’s also an excellent speaker. But as much as I recommend him in person, I stopped reading his blog and following him on Twitter because I was unable to determine where his editorial content stopped and his ad pitch kicked in. Does he really like that new Mac or is someone paying him to talk about it? Chris gambled with my trust and lost. And trust is not easy to regain so why risk it?

Last year a travel company offered me cash to place a small text ad under the search bar on my blog. I thought about it for a few weeks and eventually accepted the money which was just enough to cover my hosting fees for the four blogs I host. You won’t find it on my blog today because I decided not to renew it for a second year.  At the time, I felt like it wasn’t a conflict of interest because I don’t really write about travel.

But it never felt right. I understand that some bloggers like Steve are trying to make a living by writing and providing valuable content and opinion. I agree with Scoble that those people deserve to get paid for their writing. But when it comes to Twitter and its casual nature, I don’t agree that anyone is entitled to receive payment for their tweets. Why should anyone get paid to use Twitter? What do they provide that I can’t get elsewhere? Links to content that I can find on Digg or Failblog?

Writing a blog, interacting with people on Facebook and Twitter all give me the opportunity to make friends, share my thoughts and learn from others. Once advertising enters the mix, my guard goes up and the relationship changes. Apparently those changes don’t bother many people given the number of ads I see on blogs. Remember how nice and clean Dooce used to be? Check it out today. Same goes for TechCrunch. I don’t have much patience anymore searching for content among a sea of ads. It’s easier to unsubscribe and move on to another blogger who respects my time.

I don’t want people following me on Twitter or read my blog to wonder if I really like the Flip Mino HD or I’m just saying so because Flip paid me to say that or gave me free product. My reputation and name mean more than the money.

And isn’t trust what it comes down to anyway? Why risk losing that trust by sending ads down your Twitter stream? The risks don’t outweigh the rewards.

My Favorite Blogging Music

Some nights I don’t feel like blogging. No, most nights I don’t feel like blogging. My mind wanders. I click around the web wandering aimlessly until I get bored or run out of internet.

But I’ve found that the right music can put me in the blogging groove. That’s when the thoughts flow from my mind onto the paper instead of having to harass them out.

Using iTunes I’ve created a playlist that I’m constantly refining. Most times it helps me relax which occasionally leads to writing. Not always, but often. As much as I enjoy listening to classic rock, it does not help me collect my thoughts. I can’t listen to music with lyrics I’ve known since I was 16. My playlist is made up mostly of mellow music. I tried to select a few songs you may not have heard before.

Here are a few of my favorite songs to blog to. I was going to comment on each of them. But like most music, I can’t put into words why each song does what it does. 

botti
She Comes From Somewhere by Chris Botti

Listen at Last.fm

 

ivy
Edge of the Ocean by Ivy

Listen at Last.fm or YouTube

 

swimming
When Mac Was Swimming by Innocence Mission

Listen at Last.fm

 

seankelly
Old Man on the Moon by Sean Kelly

Listen at Last.fm or YouTube

 
 
fearless
Fearless by Pink Floyd

Listen at YouTube

 

tears
Woman in Chains by Tears for Fears

Listen at Last.fm or YouTube

WordCamp Seattle 2009 Coverage

I need to get out more.

That’s the first thing that comes to mind after attending WordCamp Seattle today on the Adobe campus. I enjoyed meeting a number of bloggers in person as well as a handful of people I follow on Twitter like Veronica and Barb.

I can’t believe how many talented people I met today who are willing to share their experiences with our community.

Thanks to Josh for giving me the opportunity to speak. Kudos to Calvin, Bean, and Dan for putting on a successful event for several hundred attendees. And how about that rowdy crowd from Portland? Their enthusiasm was contagious.

I wish I could have attended all the sessions but I had to choose between several which overlapped. Chris Pirillo gave an entertaining keynote this morning. He spoke about how companies can’t just decide one day to create a community: “Evangelism is the ROI of social media”. Chris was a good choice for the morning keynote because he energy and enthusiasm is contagious. I was waiting for him to pull a Windows Mobile phone from the audience and step on it. He definitely loves his iPhone.

While I’m on the subject, I saw a few Blackberry phones here and there, but the iPhone dominates. I felt like I was swimming in a sea of iPhones all day.

Liz Strauss gave the closing keynote address this afternoon. She stressed how important it is to “own our identity”. She suggested everyone buy the domain of their name. Tonight I followed her suggestion and bought brettnordquist.com and kimnordquist.com for under ten bucks. Is your name still available?

Liz was one of the few speakers who talked about creating unique content. She said to stop trying to be someone else. Be yourself. Find your own style and run with it. Excellent advice.

I shared a breakout session with Maya Bisineer who gave a great talk on managing multiple blogs. She has an approachable style and is super smart. I’ve considered branching off my blog, and she provided a number of options to consider.

Here’s the text of my talk.

I told a friend who reads my blog that I was speaking at Wordcamp Seattle about dad blogging. He said, “But you don’t offer any giveaways. You don’t ask people to leave a comment and post a link to Twitter and Facebook for a chance to win a product you just reviewed”

But after a lot of research I’ve determined what constitutes a dad blog can be distilled down to the following: I’m a father. And I have a blog.

Does anyone read Pro Blogger or Copy Blogger? I read them both to find out what rules I’m breaking. I don’t care about keywords, I post late at night and on holidays. I don’t run Google Analytics nor do I sell my soul for more Google juice. Lots of people here today are skilled in those areas. I’m not so I’m going to focus on writing.

About 12 ago, I came across Dave Winer’s website. I had my own domain by that time and decided to start my own. I tried a number of open source products and finally settled on one called Greymatter, not because I loved the product, but because it was the only one I could get working with my limited knowledge of PHP.

Here’s how I spent my time on my blog the first few years:

blogging

If I wanted to make a change to the layout or add a feature, I had to write it myself. Over the next 5 years I felt like the college student who bought a beater Chevy Vega and spent most of his time keeping it running instead of attending class.

How do you spend your time on your blog today? Do you spend as much time tweaking your blog as you do writing?

Near the end of 2004, someone left a comment suggesting I check out a fledgling product called WordPress

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d finally found a blogging platform that allowed me to focus on my writing. Just over a year ago I posted the following to Twitter:

twittertalk 

This is the main reason I use WordPress and suggest others use it: It allows me spend the majority of my time creating  content. Has anyone left this comment on your blog: “I visit your site each day just to see what new widget you’ve found?” I didn’t think so.

It’s your writing, your opinion, and the story you tell that compels people to return to your blog. They will connect with your writing, not your theme or plugins. You might have the best looking blog with all the popular plugins and widgets enabled. But if your content takes a back seat, you’re unlikely to find an audience.

When I began my blog, most articles I wrote focused on whatever was happening in technology at the time. At best I’ve offer a shallow opinion and at worst, I’d regurgitate the same content found on thousands of other blogs. What readers I had felt little attachment to my content, and why should they; I wasn’t attached to it myself.

A few years went by. I wrote whenever I felt like it which wasn’t often. I spent more time time explaining what a blog is than writing and considered closing my blog altogether.
 
One evening, I sat at my computer staring at my monitor. We’ve all been there before. I was frustrated with my blog. I was frustrated with my writing. What could I possibly write that others would enjoy? Was it possible to create something original? Something meaningful?

And that’s what it flipped. I asked myself, "Why am I perpetuating content found elsewhere? Why am spending so much time trying to figure out what others want me to write?

And at that moment I decided to stop writing for others and write myself. I know that sounds selfish. But I gave myself permission to write about my experiences, my opinions, and the people in my life. Even when those times collide and the results aren’t pretty. 

That night I wrote a post called "The Movie that Changed My Life". Here’s an example of what I wrote that night:

Each morning I’d arrive at work around 7:30 am. My office was on the third floor. I could take an elevator or the stairs. I slogged my way up those three flights of stairs as slowly as humanly possible. With each step my stomach would turn into a tighter knot. Step after grueling step. When I finally reached the top, I could almost puke. The hours at work felt like days. It was a living hell.

The post covered a period 10 years ago when I walked away from my job after seeing the movie, American Beauty. I was proud of some of my actions and embarrassed about others. But it was true. It was honest, and it was an experience I learned from that was specific to me.

Until then, I had steered clear of covering my work and my family. I certainly hadn’t called attention to my weaknesses or opened up in the manner I did with that post. I wanted to capture an experience that had an impact in my life. I wrote it for me. If anyone else enjoyed it, that was a bonus.

It was difficult to press “publish”. But back then I only had a few dozen readers. I assumed few would find it let alone care. When I woke up the next morning I found several supportive comments. It wasn’t until I opened my email and found over two dozen emails that I realized I’d finally found my voice.

All this finally leads to the topic Josh asked me to cover today: How Blogging Makes me a Better Father

Blogging makes me aware of how I spend my time. It makes me aware of how I react to situations, especially those that involve my children. Blogging allows me to take a snapshot of their life and capture it in words. It’s not difficult to write about mistakes I make as a parent because my kids do a good job of reminding me where I fall short.

Some dad and mom bloggers only share the good: the birthday party, the piano recital or graduation.

I’ll occasionally write about those time as well, but the posts I enjoy the most are those where I was late in picking up my daughter or overreacted to my son putting raisins in my DVD drive. I like to find the lessons in everyday activities.

At this conference we’ve heard many discussions about the mechanics of blogging: specific plugins or themes used to enhance your blog. These are certainly important. But they are not a substitute for good writing. As a new blogger it’s easy to get bogged down configuring, designing and tweaking while forgetting that it’s your writing that will keep readers returning to your blog.

Before I close I want to mention three of my favorite bloggers who write about fatherhood among other topics. I hope you’ll check them out because I’ve learned someone from each of them.

MetroDad – I wish I could write like this guy.

Is This Mike On – This newspaper editor brings a lot of heart to his blog.

Big Daddy – A friend and new blogger with large dose of humor.

How To Keep From Getting Dooced

Is your casual persona on a collision course with your professional persona? Before blogs, Facebook and Twitter the rules were straight forward: Keep your personal life tucked away at home and put on your professional hat when clocked in at the office. 

But the casual and professional are on a collision course, and the fallout to your career can be substantial if not managed properly.

thebobs

When I started my blog back in 1999, few friends, coworkers or relatives knew it existed. In fact, I had to explain to them what a blog was, and most told me they already kept a journal and couldn’t imagine putting it online for everyone to read. Funny how many of those same people are now on Blogger telling everyone the gory details of their baby’s last diaper change or visit to the fertility clinic. 

It’s only been the last couple of years that coworkers, friends and family have started to read my blog. It still feels strange when someone approaches me at church and says, “Hey, I liked your blog last Saturday”. I’d like to say I haven’t changed how I write and what topics I cover but that wouldn’t be honest. I’ve had to install a stronger filter to ensure I don’t damage friendships or get dooced.

With the proliferation of social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, getting your thoughts out to an audience is easier than ever. But it can also lead to many awkward situations.

For example, should you accept Facebook friend invites from employees who report to you? Should you invite your manager to be your friend? What about former direct reports you had to let go? 

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I can tell you what’s worked for me through trial and error. 

Facebook and Twitter are easier to manage because it’s simple to block someone on Facebook or switch your Twitter account to private. 

If you only want approved friends to see your Facebook profile, login to your account. Then go to Settings/Privacy/Profile and set your Profile to “Only Friends”. By default, everyone can see your Profile. 

There are times it might be handy to block someone from seeing anything about you. Start by making sure you’ve not added them as a friend. If you have, go to their profile, scroll down the page until you see “Remove from Friends” on the left side of the page. Once that’s done you should see a link to “Report/Block this Person” to click on.

When you unfriend or block someone, they are not notified of your actions. You just stop showing up on their News Feed. Nice work Facebook!

In Twitter, you block people by logging into your profile and then going to the profile page of the person you want to block. On the right hand side of the page, under Action, click “block *name*. Or you can take your Twitter account private by going to Settings. Under the Account tab, check the “Protect my tweets” box near bottom of page. I block a number of spammers and porn purveyors.

Although these options are available, I tend not to block people unless they harass me. If you feel strange about accepting a friend request from a coworker or boss, don’t do it. I listen to my gut and tend to error on the side of acceptance because I assume most people are intelligent enough to separate their personal life from the professional.

But there are many valid reasons for taking precautions. Here are a few that would raise a red flag for me:

  1. Your company lacks a blogging policy – tells me the brass in charge probably don’t read many blogs and don’t see the value of having a policy in place. Having a blogging policy at least tells you someone in charge has thought about it. If your company doesn’t have a blogging policy, volunteer to help write one. Wouldn’t you rather have input on the subject than have HR or legal write it for you? At the very least, it gives you the opportunity to teach executives about blogs and social media.
  2. Your boss doesn’t read blogs – a big red flag. She may overreact to something that seems fair game to you. If she reads blogs, she may understand the casual nature and appreciate your creative outlet.
  3. Your boss has a Facebook and/or Twitter account but does not participate – This may indicate she uses those accounts to lurk. As I rule, I do not accept friend invites from people who don’t contribute to the conversation. It’s a two-way street and why add them if they don’t contribute?
  4. Your company bans access to sites such as Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter – Some companies monitor their employee’s internet usage down the sites they can visit. In such a case, I’d steer clear of work related topics on my blog and take all precautions on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. You can’t run a program without approval from IT– Do they ban MSN Messenger or Firefox or iTunes? If so, beware. You work for a company that wants full control of your online time, and they probably won’t appreciate your Facebook status update complaining about the printer jam.

On the flip side, you should be encouraged if someone in upper management maintains a blog. Companies such as 37 Signals, Sun Microsystems, and Zappos are examples of companies who have managers who blog and encourage their employees to do so. If your CEO maintains an active blog, you’re looking golden!

If in doubt, ask around your company to get a sense of the landscape. You might be surprised to find out how many of your coworkers have blogs. Doesn’t hurt to ask your manager if she reads blogs. She may suggest a good one you’ve overlooked. Just don’t jump in and assume nobody cares. Believe me, if you write something that gets their attention in bad way, they will care greatly.

But your blog may benefit your career as well. One time I interviewed for a position, and HR asked for a writing sample. I gave them the URL to my blog and eventually got the job.

Much of this is common sense. You should take the pulse of your company and determine how to proceed if you want to participate in social media and/or get your thoughts out there on a blog. Unless you take your blog private, assume your friends, coworkers and boss read it. All it takes is one lapse in judgment and you could torch your job. Of course, you could always write anonymously like Mini Microsoft. But that doesn’t interest me.

I view my blog as an asset. There’s a lot more about the real me there than any resume can convey. If someone reads my blog and decides I’m not a good fit for their company, I’ve saved myself a lot of time. I feel lucky to work for a company that doesn’t ban Facebook, Twitter or discourage blogging. I helped my boss start a blog and that gave me the opportunity to talk openly about the subject.

How do you handle such decisions? Do you add coworkers to Facebook and follow them back on Twitter? I’m interested to hear if you merge the personal and profession or attempt to keep them separate.