Category Archives: blogging

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Getting to know people who read this blog–hooray for hangout experiment #1!

Quick link to details of upcoming hangouts: http://sachachua.com/hangout

*squee!* It turns out that virtually hanging out with people–no pre-planned presentation, not even a fully-tested understanding of the platform, and only the roughest idea of an agenda–can be totally awesome. Not at all as scary as I’d imagined, and more fun than I thought it could be!

It felt amazing, like having a bunch of friends over for tea, except without the temptation to keep cooking. People were freely chatting with each other, and I didn’t have to worry about filling in the silences. In fact, the combination of a voice/video/text chat worked out wonderfully – I could listen to people share their insights, and I could chime in without interrupting. I picked up lots of ideas for things I want to learn more about or share, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about people who participated.

It was a great shared learning experience, too. People talked me through dealing with the platform’s technical limitations – changing the Hangout to a Hangout on Air, remembering to start the broadcast… We played around with some of the features of Google Hangout. Hangout Toolbox’s “Lower Third” adds a newscast-like attribution to your video, which makes it easier to see who’s speaking. Google Drive’s shared documents and sketchpad real-time editing sparked ideas about collaboration.

NEXT STEPS IN TERMS OF HANGING OUT

So this was fun, and we should definitely do an experiment #2. =) I’m so glad people joined me in this experiment, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Which will be… hmm… I’ve promised to organize ones in other timezones as well, so July 3 9 PM PHT / 1 PM GMT / 9 AM EDT, and another one on July 17  at 8:30 PM EDT.  =) I think a fun way to make this work is to sort out the scheduling details with at least one other person who can be there. That way, even if no one else shows up and it’s a short conversation, I won’t feel like I’m talking to myself. Winking smile 

For the next virtual hangout, I want to try using AnyMeeting so that people don’t get turned away at the (virtual) door. Google Hangouts are limited to ten people, although more people can watch the video stream. (They don’t have access to the text chat, though!) I can imagine that audio/video gets chaotic past a certain number of people, but if people can toggle their audio/video on as needed and we use the text chat to let any number of people ask and answer… I think that would be a great possibility to explore.

In the meantime, people can discuss topics or connect with each other through Google+ or other channels. Once the recording is up there, it’ll be easier for people to remember what we talked about. Since it’s difficult to take notes and listen and talk and type all at the same time, my memory’s all fuzzy until I get a chance to review the recording, too! I look forward to digging into some of the ideas (see “Next steps in terms of blogging” below for the ones I remember), and maybe people can connect with other people to follow up on things that sparked their interest.

Maybe I’ll inch my way up towards regularly doing this every month, every two weeks (or even every week!) in various timezones. I like the idea of hanging out, getting to know people, hearing what’s on people’s minds and what’s going on in people’s lives, and watching people connect with others. I’ve learned so much from people through blog comments and e-mail through the years. Maybe it’s like an open house, like the way I structure my get-togethers so that people can come any time they want and leave any time they need to. I can just sit down with a cup of tea and hear from whoever wants to share what’s going on in their life – maybe anchored with one conversation that I know I’m going to have, but opened up to anyone who wants to drop by. I don’t know whether public recording or unknown participation will get in the way of sharing, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Another way to look at it—probably an even better way—maybe this is about creating more opportunities to learn from people, and by learning from people, I can help those people learn even more. Most people don’t blog, or they feel self-conscious about writing when they don’t know who’s reading. One of my favourite ads is this IBM Linux one from 2003, where lots of people teach this young boy about life. I often feel that my life is like that, except maybe with more facial expressions and sound effects. ;) If you help me (or the other people who come to these hangouts), you help lots of other people, and maybe those tips get turned into blog posts or visual notes too. So maybe we pick things we want to learn about together, and people volunteer to share what they’ve learned, and we all move forward while also telling stories and swapping tips… =)

NEXT IN TERMS OF BLOGGING

More collaboration: It might be interesting to put my to-blog list out there in a form that other people can add to—maybe a Google Doc? And maybe if I develop closer connections with people reading this blog, then people will feel comfortable pushing back when I don’t explain something clearly or I take something for granted so that I can learn how to write better. =) Maybe I can collaborate with people on outlines and questions for things that I should write or make: that Emacs book that I ended up passing to someone else (who also procrastinated it)? a guide to sketchnoting? tips on how to live an awesome life?

I’d love to learn more about speech recognition. I’ve been thinking about it as a way to make my posts sound more conversational. (I read much more than I talk, so I tend to sound bookish.) Because I need to train the speech recognition model, I’ll probably be slower in the beginning. If I can get it to be reasonably accurate, it might be a good way to get thoughts out quickly someday.

Helping people get better at blogging: While I don’t have the One Right Answer, I can share what’s working for me, and I might be able to help people—especially if they can figure out what kind of help they need, like a little bit of social accountability or a friendly person they can ask when they have questions. =)

Onward and upward! I’ve created a new page at sachachua.com/hangout that will include details for upcoming hangouts. Looking forward to more experiments!

Web experiments this week: Webinar on “How to Improve Your Visual Thinking” and a Google Hangout on blogging; would love to connect with you!

This Wednesday, I’m experimenting with two virtual ways to connect, and I hope you’ll join me in figuring things out!

From 3 PM EDT to 4 PM EDT on June 19 (Wed), I’m joining Augustin Soler and Chuck Frey to give a visual thinking webinar organized by Matt Tanguay. We’re each giving a 15-minute presentation with Q&A. Augustin will talk about Lean UX Process at Mural.ly, Chuck will talk about 5 Brainstorming Tasks You Can Manage with Mindmapping Software, and I’ll talk about How to Use Evernote to Improve Your Visual Thinking. There’s a nominal fee of $5, but you can register for free with the promotional code “sachachua”.

Spoiler alert! Here are my notes. Winking smile 

image

By the way, you can find my public Evernote notebook of sketchnotes at https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/sketchnotes .

I’ll do a quick demo of my Evernote setup and processes, and I hope people will pick up lots of timesavers and interesting ideas from the short talk. It builds on my previous blog post about how I use Evernote to support my sketchnoting. Since a lot of people don’t know that you can use Evernote to search image notes or publish notebooks of your sketches, it’s good to share these tips.

15 minutes each is not much time for demo/Q&A, but if people ask lots of questions in the webinar chat, I’d love to answer those questions in follow-up blog posts and conversations. I’ll be recording it on my side, and Matt will probably record it on his side as well. Looking forward to sharing the notes afterwards too!

In addition to the webinar, I’m also experimenting with an open Google Hangout about blogging from 8PM to 9PM EDT on Wednesday, June 19. I’ve been thinking about where we can take this blog and what I can do to make it better, and I’d love to hear from people. Google Hangout seems like an interesting way to connect. =) If I can get to know people through that – what are you here for? what would you like to learn more about? – and get lots of questions either over video or in the text chat, I think that would totally rock. Shall we give it a try?

To give you a sense of what it’ll be like, here’s a rough sketch that I’ll use at the start of the hangout:

20130619 Living an Awesome Life - Hangout 1

I’m really interested in virtual meetups and communities because I don’t want good ideas to be limited to geographic locations. I want to help figure out ways that people can connect and share—visual thinking, sketchnoting, Quantified Self, Emacs, blogging… Although Toronto has a very active in-person meet-up scene, there are all sorts of interesting people around the world, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to bump into each other online. Can you help me experiment with these ways and figure out how to do even better?

If you’re interested, you can register for the visual thinking webinar (again, free with the promotional code sachachua, but paying for admission helps the organizer defray the cost of the online meeting service) or sign up for the Google Hangout (when it’s time for the event, just click on the “Hangouts” link to join the call!). I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions about the topics, and your meta-feedback about these ways to connect online!

Getting started with blogging when no one’s reading

This entry is part 17 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

“So I’m planning to start a blog… How do I do it? How do I build an audience?”

It’s okay. Don’t worry. Write anyway.

Write notes for yourself, because writing can help you think and remember. Write about what you’re learning. Write about your answers to other people’s questions. Write about your own questions, and write about the answers you find.

At some point—and earlier than you think you’re ready—make it easy for people to come across your blog. Add it to your e-mail signature. Add it to your social media profiles. Let people find you, read you, and learn more about you.

Look for more questions to explore. Share your notes on your blog. Answer them where you found the question, too, and share a link. Soon you’ll find yourself saying in conversations, “Oh yeah! I wrote about that recently and…”

Read blogs, news, books, whatever you enjoy. Blog your questions, your thoughts, your lessons learned. Name-drop liberally: link to the person who wrote the post you’re thinking about, and maybe they’ll follow that back to find you. (Lots of people regularly search for their names, and many bloggers look at their analytics to see incoming links.) Comment on other people’s blogs, too – share what you’re learning from them and what questions you may have.

You find your community, person by person. But you can start by building your blog for yourself, this ever-growing accumulation of things you’re learning and things you’re curious about, this time machine that’s going to be an amazing resource when it’s 2023 and you’re wondering what you were like ten years ago. The conversations are icing on the cake.

My early blog posts are almost unintelligible. That’s because they were my class notes and computer notes, back when I was trying to figure out how to get a text editing program to publish web pages and maybe this newfangled idea of a “web log.” Your first blog posts don’t have to be ready for the New York Times. Just start, and don’t worry if no one’s reading. You can get plenty of value out of writing even on your own. (But post in public anyway, because the conversations are a lot of fun and you’ll learn a lot from people’s questions and insights.) Enjoy!

You might also like this: Six Steps to Sharing

Series Navigation« Writing, drawing, and coding while tiredBlogging tip: Test your ideas and get more feedback in order to make your posts better »

Using Google’s In-Page Analytics to understand how people use a site

If you use Google Analytics to get some insight into how people use your webpages, be sure to check out Content > In-Page Analytics. It gives you an idea of what people click on, and that can influence your design decisions.

The posts on my blog homepage change roughly every week, so I used the drop-down in the top right to change the reporting date. Here’s what the overall stats look like for the main page of my blog:

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Let’s look at the breakdown throughout the page:

2013-05-31 11_39_58-In-Page Analytics - Google Analytics

It looks like I should spend some time improving my About page, since a lot of people go to it.

2013-05-31 11_40_19-In-Page Analytics - Google AnalyticsSome blogs recommend removing the Recent Comments widget from the sidebar because people don’t find it useful. I find it handy for seeing what people are talking about, though, and it seems that other people do too. (21% of clicks to see older comments!) I switched to using the Better WordPress Recent Comments plugin in order to show comment previews. There’s a slight delay because I’m using the external Disqus commenting system which still needs to synchronize with WordPress, but I like it overall.

2013-05-31 11_40_37-In-Page Analytics - Google AnalyticsSome blogs recommend manually selecting Top Posts & Pages instead of leaving it up to the computer. This one is automatically selected based on recent views, which is great because it comes up with recommendations I wouldn’t have remembered or thought about (like that Drupal one!). I should make a Resources page, though.

2013-05-31 11_40_59-In-Page Analytics - Google Analytics

I include links to blog posts in my weekly reviews. This is surprisingly useful for both personal memory-jogging and for helping other people jump to things quickly.

2013-05-31 11_41_15-In-Page Analytics - Google Analytics

I have a hard time getting the hang of “Next page” and “Previous page” navigation on blogs. (Am I going forward or backward in time?) I changed my theme to make it easier to figure out which direction you’re going in, and I have these paging links at the beginning (near a table of contents) and at the end of the page.

2013-05-31 11_41_23-In-Page Analytics - Google Analytics

This is all the way near the bottom of the page.  It has the same numbers as the ones up top, so I think Google Analytics might be getting confused about the links because they go to the same place.  (Same with the Older Posts link.) I can probably disambiguate the links by changing the tracking code.

So, TODOs for me: spruce up my About page, figure out where to add a Resources page, look into asynchronous tracking, and see if there’s a way I can set up WordPress to experiment with different layouts…

Check out Google’s In-Page Analytics if you have it on your site!

Note: Got an error while trying to use In-Page Analytics? Make sure you’re properly calling the Google Analytics code on the site. I use a Wordpress plugin to make sure that my visits aren’t tracked when I’m logged in (no sense in throwing off the stats with obsessive refreshing! Winking smile ), so I needed to log out of my site before checking In-Page Analytics.

On blogging and platforms, and experimenting with Google Hangout

I’ve been thinking about how I can take this blog to the next level. Blogging is a fantastic way for me to learn, and I’m amazed at what people are doing with what I share. I want to get even better at it. I’m learning to ask more questions – people are awesome and generous with their insights!

Following up on his comments, Thomas and I chatted about blogging. He’s been learning about platforms, and he had a few tips and suggestions for me. He has a great write-up over on his blog. I wanted to follow up on some of the topics we discussed.

Here are some things people have written about blogging and platforms:

Something felt a little odd for me, though, so I wanted to dig into it further. “Platform” is an interesting word. There are lots of different ways to think about it, and the way you think about it influences your approach. Here are some ways I started thinking about “platform”:

Visual metaphor - Platform

(Feel free to reuse, remix or share this under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence!)

I want to build the kinds of platforms on the right: platforms that people can build on, platforms that fill in the gaps and act as scaffolds or foundations for further growth, platforms that drill deep and bring up resources and insights for everyone. =)

I love it when people do stuff with what I share. I love how there’s a hackerspace in Atlanta with a huge version of one of my sketchnotes. I love how The Shy Connector often turns up in Twitter mentions and blog posts. I love the way Melissa Burch turned one of my visual book reviews into a full-scale webinar. (This is why I use Creative Commons Attribution instead of All Rights Reserved!) I love how people think about stuff and share their own insights, and I love the conversations and new adventures that grow out of that give-and-take.

I love it when people ask me questions and I either point them to a blog post that I’d already written about it, or I write a new post that helps them and people in the future. Sometimes it feels a little haphazard as I jump from topic to topic, but I trust that if I keep filling in the gaps, I’ll make it easier for other people to go on from there.

I love digging into something, trying to figure it out, sharing my thoughts along the way–and learning from other people’s perspectives and experiences in the process.

These are the kinds of platforms I want to build. I’m working on getting better at:

  • Writing and drawing, so that I can share my ideas and other people’s ideas more expressively
  • Editing, organizing, and packaging, so that I can make it easier for people to find and understand what they want to learn
  • Asking questions and trying new experiments, so that I can explore and go deeper

Here’s an experiment I want to try: getting to know people who read this blog. (You!) I want to try talking to people more – asking for ideas, looking for ways to help. Let’s try a Google Hangout about blogging (June 19 8 PM EDT) as a small experiment along these lines. I want to hear about what people want from this blog, find out the questions people have, and discover things that I didn’t know I knew enough to share. It’ll be chaotic, but maybe you can help me figure out how to make the most of it! =)

I’m a little over ten years into blogging, and it’s been great. I wonder what this could be like after fifty, sixty, seventy more years of writing and sharing… Wouldn’t that be interesting? (… gosh, that’s probably 32,000 posts…) What kinds of things could people build on this if we make the most of the opportunities we have? Let’s find out.

How I use Feedburner to give people the option of different blog update frequencies

I’ve been thinking about how to make it easier for people who want to keep in touch but who don’t want to be overwhelmed by my daily posting schedule. Instead of trying to come up with the Best Way on my own, I asked what people wanted. Out of 26 votes (as of the time I wrote this), ten people wanted weekly newsletters and three people wanted monthly newsletters. That probably means that even more people would like those less frequent update options, so I decided to spend some time figuring out a good way to offer that.

Since I already do weekly and monthly reviews, the easiest way would be to make those reviews available in a separate feed that people can subscribe to over RSS or e-mail. I’ve been using Feedburner as a way of making my feeds more browser-friendly and as a way to handle e-mail subscriptions. Although I’d been concerned about the long-term longevity of my feeds in case Feedburner shuts down, it turns out that you can set up your own domain name by following the instructions under My Account > MyBrand.

image

I set up my feeds to use feeds.sachachua.com instead of feeds.feedburner.com. That means that if Feedburner goes away, I just need to change my DNS record to point to my own server and write my own redirect rules. I wish I’d done this earlier! Anyway, if you subscribed to http://feeds.feedburner.com/sachac , please switch to using http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac instead.

With the new feed URLs in place, I created Feedburner feeds for my weekly and monthly reviews. Category feeds are built-in, so all I needed to do was tell Feedburner to handle http://sachachua.com/blog/category/weekly and http://sachachua.com/blog/category/monthly . I customized each feed to include a short message pointing to the other feeds (Optimize > BrowserFriendly), change the URL, and enable e-mail subscriptions (Publicize > Email Subscriptions).

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Then I modified my WordPress theme to include links to the new feeds. To make the feeds available from the feed icon in many browsers’ address bars, I added the following code to my <head>…</head>:

<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Feed (~daily)" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac" />
<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Weekly reviews" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-weekly" />
<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Monthly reviews" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-monthly" />

Result:

image

I also added links to the feeds in my sidebar using the Appearance > Widgets > Text widget.

Now, people should be able to easily subscribe to whichever frequency they want. =)

On another note: I was surprised and delighted to find that many people wanted daily updates. Thank you! I’ll try to make my headlines useful so that you can guess right away if you would be interested in something, and we’ll see if I can write weekly review headlines with keywords as well.

If you blog a lot, I hope you find this tip handy!