Category: Writing

Longer posts that I might actually have researched or at the very least I’ve thought about before posting.

Voices in my head

How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not “the thing with feathers.” The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.

From Woody Allen, The Complete Prose

And so I sat there, chuckling to myself whilst my fellow commuters stared obstinately out of the train window. At least I hoped that’s what they were doing given that my involuntary giggles were at times quite loud and mostly sudden.

Now I’d warrant that you, dear reader, have heard Mr. Allen speak. You’ve heard the tones and inflections he imparts on his words, the stresses and strains he places on the punctuation, and the stuttering pause ridden asides that you realise are faked as soon as he starts to eloquently pontificate on whatever it is that currently irks – and here I’m thinking specifically of the Marshal McLuhan scene in Annie Hall, you know the one, where he breaks away from the cinema queue to berate the amateur film critic and people like him.

Must watch that movie again, it’s wonderful and probably has had more impact on modern cinema than a lot of people realise. I’m not a die-hard Woody Allen fan, he has produced a few duds in his time, and these days he is in severe danger of becoming a parody of himself, which in turn is probably a sign of his success and fame (and notoriety?).

I digress.

As mike noted a few weeks back, the written word can take on a whole new realm if you are aware of how the author uses phrasing and rhythm. The word patterns and movement that are created when speaking aloud offer a much deeper understanding of the words as they leap off the page and through your eardrums.

The spoken word goes back a long way, yes even before blogs or *gasp* the internet was invented (honestly, there was a time when there weren’t even computers, how did we manage?!), and it’s little wonder that it still carries the most impact. However I wonder if, given the rise in “personal publishing” in the past few years, there isn’t a requirement for a separate set of Writing Style Guidelines aimed solely at personal writing, where the writer is free to punctuate in a way that enforces the pauses and inflections they naturally use?

And no, I’m not talking about any free-form punctuation nonsense, but surely within the strict rules of grammar to which we all *coughs* adhere there is a little wiggle room for some artistic expression?

Or am I… you know… talking rubbish again?

Onto deeper matters then, why doesn’t Woody (Allen to his friends) have a blog? The one thing that hits me whilst reading his Complete Prose is how suited it would be to a blog format. Most of the pieces are short and punchy, and only really suit a compiled print publication. Ohhh sure he could write for a magazine, granted the bulk of the pieces in the book featured in New Yorker, but admit it, you’d LOVE a Woody Allen blog. Admittedly the fact rumour that he doesn’t own a compuer and still uses the manual typewriter on which he wrote his first screenplay might put the kibosh on that idea.

Mind you, thinking about it, a Woody Allen podcast would be much better.

God* Bless America

America has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism recently, and a lot of it has been warranted. But who are we to criticise? What do we really know about America?

For a lot of us, the occasional trip to a big city or a holiday resort, for others you only know what you see or read, filtered through news networks or blogs. What do we REALLY know about America?

How many people live in poverty? What’s the rate of child deaths? How many people die of starvation? Will Brad and Jen get back together?

Then there are the calls for charity, for donations to help the sick and starving in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The images still fresh in the mind, the looting, the violence, the death, are interrupted by another appeal, this time for the starving people in Niger. Drought and locusts killed off last years crops, and the people have no food. They are not in a rich country, they do not have neighbours who can take them in, they have not looted and violated. Who deserves?

The culture in America has created a “winner takes all” society, and the richest country in the world is asking for help. Billions of dollars are required to rebuild houses and lives, and Americans are pitching in, doing their bit, helping their neighbours. But why do they need my help? My charity? Where will my money make a difference? Africa or America?

There is no right or wrong answer of course. Yet the internal conflict remains and I struggle to balance my own thoughts on the matter. America has been treated harshly, yes. Their government has failed to act appropriately, yes. They have the resources they need to solve this themselves, yes. Have they helped out other countries when similar has happened? Yes. The good and bad sides of America are at war, and the country seems to be stretching itself, slowly awaking from its slumber with the realisation that only whilst it is sleeping is it truely the land of dreams.

* Insert deity of choice

Top 100

There seems to be a bit of a brew-haha gathering on blogland. Well sort of, but unless you read certain sites you’d never know so let me summarise for you.

Technorati are trying to establish themselves as THE auditors of the web, amongst other things they maintain a “Top 100 blogs” list which lists all the top linked sites. It’s currently questionable that this “A list” is reliable and accurate, with others spring up in competition – Feedster’s Top 500 for example (500 does seem a little OTT mind you).

BlogHer, the conference (movement?) aimed at increasing the standing of women in blogging, and featured the following debate topic: “The BlogHer Debate question for 2005 is this: Women bloggers, how do you want the world to learn about what you’re creating — if at all? Do you want to play by today’s rules or change the game? … Does the current link-based power structure matter to you?

The link will take you to a more detailed discussion of how we got to this point.

The general idea, and something I’ve discussed here before, is that the current way of ranking the A-list gives the older blogs more prominence than may be accurate and discounts the inputs from new blogs – the female angle at BlogHer stems from the early adoptance of the internet by male dominated establishments I.M.O. – and is gathering momentum.

People have started de-linking A-list sites (I have some in my blogroll on the right) and while it’s easy to think of all this as yet another storm in a teacup and nothing that is of real importance, and while it gives more credence to the “navel-gazing” charge given to a lot of blogs by the mainstream media, I think we may be at a fundamental point in blogging’s evolution. I’m not unique in this thought, far from it, but I’m not sure the ground swell of reaction is focussed in the right direction.

Instead of discounting the A-list shouldn’t we be challenging them? Saying to them “come on, you are in a position of influence, use it wisely”? The people who are linked to the most wield a lot of “link-power” and yet few (any?) use that to promote new or upcoming blogs. Part of the problem may be a question of recognising which blogs to link to, but as has been demonstrated elsewhere, if someone has a mind to it, and with a bit of self-promotion, you can place yourself on their radar quite easily.

There is a lot of talk surrounding this and other similar issues at the moment – top 100/500 lists, ranking stats, and so on. I think they are being given undue focus though, it’s almost as though some people forget what blogging is about. Distilled to it’s core, blogging is about content. Those with good content will prosper, those without will not. It really shouldn’t be any more difficult than that.

Should it?

Thinking

“What shall I write about today?” I pondered to no-one in particular. “It’s a thought ain’t it” I replied to myself.

Sometimes inspiration hits, sometimes it’s just a bag slung over a shoulder on the train, either way the jolt is the same and the kick start is enough to get your brain moving.

Except mine appears to be stuck. Don’t get me wrong, I can find plenty of topics to waffle on about, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, but that key ingredient, that essential release is missing.

I don’t post about work, I don’t really do much during the week, and weekends are typically spent on the mundane aspects of life, gardening, shopping, and so on. There is only so much I can say about my family without scaring everyone away (although with my Mum becoming a more frequent commenter I fear my blog days are numbered as it is, she’s getting a new kitchen don’t ya know), and only so much I can say about my life because I’m all too aware of who reads this nonsense (see previous brackets).

Maybe I should start up an anonymous blog?

Yes, I’m suffering blog depre… no I’m not using THAT word. Let’s call it blog malaise.

But then I look at other blogs and see that they don’t really talk about much either. “I need to develop some characters” I say to myself, my mum would be a prime candidate for this, and this would be the perfect place to catalogue all her little “foibles” (or should I say “turning into her mother”-isms?). She’s not quite on a league with my Gran yet mind you – who once referred to some pears as “runky” (spelling unconfirmed) – and has a way to go to catch up with the, now infamous, comment from another Granny (not mine) who, sometime in the mid-80s, pondered what the fascination was with these “pubic cubes”…

Mind you, maybe I don’t need to go to the lengths of embarassing my mother (if that’s even possible, she’ll pop along soon and deny it is, just you watch) as I’m fairly well practised at waffling myself out of these slumps, next thing you know I’ll be posting three or four times a day. Maybe that’s the “blogger secret”, the key, the solution. Just keep blogging.

God, that sounds trite.

Blogosphere*

Are there three blogospheres? asks John at Syntagma. He proposes the notion that blogging/bloggers can be categorised in three groups:

  • Primary – ” “Blogging” as a topic of discussion means nothing to them”
  • Secondary – contains the purely-for-business blogs
  • Tertiary – which comprises all those folk who talk endlessly about “the blogosphere”… serious bloggers, info-providers, probloggers, A, B, and C-listers

He proposes that the Tertiary group is the one that will push onwards, leading the way and which will produce “a few giants” over time, with motivation being the dividing factor.

I disagree, slightly, and think this model needs some clarification and additional rules. For a start it needs to explicitly state that the Tertiary group also consists of bloggers who are trying to make money from blogging, to that end it’s not always the case that they are “those folk who talk endlessly” about the state of blogging, more often than not they are the specialist blogs (Gizmodo for example) and rarely pitch in to discussions about the general state of blogging. However they’ll still be pushing ahead as they rely on audience numbers to pull in money.

Naturally, as with any model, there are exceptions to the rule and some bloggers will break out of their “group” and transcend everyone else, perhaps there needs to be a “Stratum” level group in which to place, for example, Dooce. Whether you like reading about her trials and tribulations as a mother, the mainstream media are very aware of her blog, she’s an A-list blogger with no monetary or advancement aspirations.

Anyway, to the crux of my disagreement, or perhaps discontent would be better. This model perpetuates the “them and us” situation we already have and I don’t see how it can, in the long term, benefit the blogging community. By declaring what is essentially a class system such as this, you immediately discount many blogs purely because their motivation isn’t to earn money, be recognised, or gain fame for themselves. There are many smart people who view blogging as a hobby – and would fall into the Primary group in this model – but offer insightful, thought provoking and useful posts. One example, and this is the first one that pops into my head (and I’m aware that I may be perpetuating my own little clique here), would be Adrian’s How to share iTunes over the Internet post which is a perfect example of a “Primary” group blog which, with one post, is now referenced in forums and sites.

Granted this will still be possible in this model but the I think there is has to be some awareness of the Tertiary group becoming very circular. Mind you, that would actually change anything that isn’t present with the A-list blogs at the moment, and is certainly not the fault of the model. However as it’s the “Tertiary” blogs that are discussing this at the moment, and by the model’s own definition they’ll be the only ones doing it, then perhaps John isn’t far off the mark when he states that “the Tertiary blogosphere … will eventually choke itself off”.

To summarise: I think the basic premise of this model isn’t far off the mark, but does seem a little “exclusive” at the moment. I think that can be clarified through wording though. There is also the small matter of the blogs who readily want to be part of the Tertiary group accepting some responsibility and is currently being discussed on other blogs – the small matter of those Top 100 lists. Are the A-listers really doing the what’s best for blogging or themselves?? More on that tomorrow.

* yes I KNOW what I said about that word, I still don’t like it, I’ve slapped myself already

Information Design and the Web 1

Inspired by John Zeratsky although I seem to have headed off with my own train of thought.

Part 1 of 2

INFORMATION DESIGN – Sounds ominous, right? But it’s not. In fact it’s so everyday you probably don’t realise it’s affecting you every single minute of every single day.

First things first though. What is “information design”?

One of the best explanations I’ve come across is by Nathan Shedroff who states:

The processes involved in solving problems, responding to audiences, and communicating to others are similar enough [across differing communication tools] to consider them identical …

These issues apply across all types of media and experiences, because they directly address the phenomena of information overload, information anxiety, media literacy, media immersion, and technological overload — all which need better solutions. The intersection of these issues can be addressed by the process of Information Interaction Design.

Sounds simple enough, to me. He goes on to say that:

“In other circles, it is called simply Information Design, Information Architecture, or Interaction Design, Instructional Design, or just plain Common Sense.”

From this we can make the simple statement that the core aim of Information Design is to make information as effective as possible. So in order to understand Information Design, we need to understand the types of information with which it is concerned.

Read More

Orwellian

George Orwell, in Why I Write, suggested that there are “four great motives for writing”:

  1. Sheer egoism
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm
  3. Historical impulse
  4. Political purpose

Obviously there are many other more subtle reasons for wanting to write but on the whole I tend to agree. Obviously Georgie, as I like to call him (he hates it though), was talking about writing professionally and most certainly was not talking about blogging; which is understandable as he’d been dead for almost forty years before it had even been considered.

However I’m quite taken by his reasoning and I think it still holds true today, writing is still writing even if the publishing format has changed very VERY dramatically. So let’s see if we can apply the “Orwellian Writing Reasons” to blogging.
Read More

Simplicity achieved?

The rise and rise of products like Apple’s iPod and applications like Firefox and Flickr have gotten me thinking. What do those products have in common?

Simplicity. They aren’t bogged down with hundreds of options and all provide a basic service that people want and provide it well. Flickr is possibly an exception as once you start digging it can be very powerful and complex, but if you just want to upload some snaps and share them with friends it is simple.

So, is the popularity of these products down to their simplicity? Are we all just sick of bloated software that takes minutes to start up, and has hundreds of features we never use? Are we sick of the latest gadget that now has “67 brand new features” that just make accessing the basic functions twice as hard?

Read More

Z List

This has been languishing in draft status for a while – given Jason Kottke’s recent news (see next post) I thought now was as good a time to post it as any.

I’ve been pondering, amongst other things, the recent Bloggies, and the whole “A list” bloggers thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never join the upper echelons of the blogeratti, nor will I receive a Bloggies nomination because I’m not focussed. I waffle about too many things in too disjointed a fashion. Lack of consistency possibly (but you could never fault me for lack of content).

WHY am I pondering this?

Well, at this very point in time I have three rather lengthy posts in draft state. Two are centred round Information Design and the Web, and one is titled “Why we write”. I’ve been adding to and tweaking them for the past two weeks and they are getting to the stage where they could be published. But what then? Do I revert back to the usual miscellany or do I push on for greatness, honing my writing further, creating a unique(r) voice and becoming the site for.. er… ah problem.

What IS the focus of this site? Well obviously it’s me, but then again it ISN’T me as I don’t really talk about myself in that much detail, and I’m painfully aware that my life just isn’t that exciting, certainly not enough to warrant an entire website. I’m not the funniest writer, nor am I particularly insightful, so I’m left with a myriad of topics to deal with, and that’s not to mention the many grammar and typing errors which I’m prone to.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy posting this nonsense but I’m naturally competitive, and have a constant need for adoration (and money) so it piques me a little that I’m not “up there”.

I want fame and glamour, dammit. Who do I have to sleep with to get it!

But, as with most things in this life, I’m getting out what I put in. I’ve made some ‘friends’, met some people, and had the chance to help some others on the way. I’m slowly getting more involved in projects I enjoy and having spent a few days trawling my own archives it’s fairly obvious that the content here is both more frequent but (usually) better considered.

Recently I feel like I’ve been starting over, like the New Year is still influencing my thinking. It’s prompted a few changes, both in my approach to this site and my approach to others, and I think it will continue to do so. It’s a cyclic thing with me, and something I’ve mentioned before. Change and chaos seem to both excite me, forcing me to consider new options, new directions, and depress me, the fog descends again (don’t worry I’ve got a big shiny fan to blow it away with).

Either way, the funk seems to ebb and flow, but it’s providing great moments of lucidity at times, and at least these days I’ve learnt how to see through the fog.

So you A-listers, keep on doing what you are doing, and just remember one thing. WHY you are doing it.