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More notes on managing a large blog archive: 17 things I do to handle 10+ years of blog posts

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to manage a large archive to encourage discovery and serendipity, and to make it easier to fish out articles so that I can send them to people. I started in 2001-ish and have more than 6,500 posts. There’s not a lot of information on how to manage a large archive. Most blogging-related advice focuses on helping people get started and get going. Few people have a large personal archive yet. I love coming across other bloggers who have been at this for more than ten years, because information architecture is fascinating. Here’s what I do, in case it gives you any ideas.

  1.  I set up Google Chrome quick searches for my blog, categories, and tags. This means I can quickly dig up blog posts if I remember roughly where they are. (Gear > Settings > Search > Manage Search Engines):
    • Blog (b): https://www.google.ca/search?q=site%3Asachachua.com+%s
    • Blog category (bc): http://sachachua.com/blog/category/%s
    • Blog tag (bt): http://sachachua.com/blog/tag/%s
  2. I create pages with additional notes and lists of content. I use either Display Posts Shortcode or WP Views, depending on what I need. See the Emacs page as an example.
  3. I’ve started using Organize Series to set up trails through my content. It’s more convenient than manually defining links, and it allows people to page through the posts in order too. Read my notes to find examples. I’m also working on maps, outlines, and overviews.
  4. I’ve also started packaging resources into PDFs and e-books. It makes sense to organize things in a more convenient form.
  5. I converted all the categories with fewer than ten entries to tags. Categories can get unwieldy when you create them organically, so I use categories for main topics and tags for other keywords that might graduate to become categories someday. I think I used Categories to Tags Converter or Taxonomy Converter for this. Hah! Similar Posts reminded me that I used Term Management Tools. Awesome.
  6. I manually maintain a more detailed categorical index at sach.ac/index. This makes it easier for me to see when many blog posts are piling up in a category, and to organize them more logically.
  7. I set up short URLs for frequently-mentioned posts. The Redirection plugin does a decent job at this. For example, people often ask me about the tools I use to draw, and it’s great to just be able to type in http://sach.ac/sketchtools as an answer.
  8. I post weekly and monthly reviews. The weekly review includes links to that week’s blog posts, and the monthly review includes a categorized list. I’ve also set up daily, weekly, and monthly subscriptions based on the RSS feeds. This is probably overkill (more choices = lower subscriptions), but I want to give people options for how frequently they want updates. The weekly and monthly reviews are also helpful for me in terms of quickly getting a sense of the passage of time.
  9. I use Similar Posts to recommend other things people might be interested in. There are a number of similar plugins, so try different ones to see which one you like the most. I tried nRelate and the one from Zemanta, but I wasn’t happy with the way those looked, so I’m back to plain text.
  10. I show recent comments. People often comment on really old posts, and this is a great way for other people to discover them.
  11. I use post titles in my next/previous navigation, and I labelled them “Older” and “Newer”. I think they’re more interesting than
  12. I customized my theme pages to make it easier to skim through posts or get them in bulk. For example, http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/02 lists all the posts for February. http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/?bulk=1 puts all the posts together so that I can copy and paste it into a Microsoft Word file. http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/?org=1 puts it in a special list form so that I can paste it into Org Mode in Emacs. You can also pass the number of posts to a category page: http://sachachua.com/blog/category/drawing/?posts_per_page=-1 displays all the posts instead of paginating them. These tweaks make it easier for me to copy information, too.
  13. I give people the option to browse oldest posts first. Sometimes people prefer starting from the beginning, so I’ve added a link that switches the current view around.
  14. I have an “On this day” widget. Sometimes I notice interesting things in it. I used to put it at the end of a post, but I moved it to the sidebar to make the main column cleaner.
  15. For fun, I have a link that goes to a random post. I used to display random post titles in the sidebar, which might be an interesting approach to return to.
  16. I back up to many different places. I mirror my site as a development environment. I back up the database and the files to another web server and to my computer, and I duplicate the disk image with Linode too. I should set up incremental backups so that it’s easier to go back in time, just in case.
  17. I rated my posts and archived my favourite ones as a PDF so that I’ll still have them even if I mess up my database. Besides, it was a good excuse to read ten years of posts again.

Hope that gives you some ideas for things to experiment with! I’m working on organizing more blog posts into trails and e-books. I’m also getting better at planning what I want to write about and learn. If you’re curious about any of the techniques I use or you want to bounce around ideas, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] or set up a chat.

Do you have a large blog? How do you manage it?

Reflections on infopreneurship

There’s a lot of information on how you can build an online business by selling what you know. Many people are looking for that dream. It feels a little weird to me, and I want to figure out why. I guess one of the things that rubs me the wrong way is that a lot of people talk about becoming an expert in some crowded topic, and building an audience somehow. I don’t want an audience. I don’t want students. I want peers and confederates: people who learn, act, reflect, and share.

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

Another thing that makes me uncomfortable is that there seems to be very little expectation of action. There’s a lot of talk about it. But when I go and follow up with people on the results of the advice I applied from them, they’re boggled that I actually did something. One person I talked to said that 80% of the people he talked to don’t end up doing anything. 20% is still a good number, but still…  Steve Salerno wrote in Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless that the people who buy new self-help books tend to be people who bought a similar self-help book in the past 18 months. I don’t want to give people something that just makes them feel like they’ve made progress instead of helping them actually do things.

I think part of my hesitation comes from this: People get stuck for lots of different reasons, but it’s rarely for lack of reading. I don’t want to pitch information as the magic pill, the silver bullet, the shortcut to making things happen.

When I read, I skip platitudes but dig into reflections and lessons learned. I like processes and workflows. I want what I share to be similarly useful. The stuff that helps me get unstuck tends to result in thoughts like this:

  • “Oh! That’s the name of what I’m looking for. Now I can dig into the details.”
  • “Hmm, what I’m dealing with turns out to be fairly common. I can try what other people have done.”
  • “Oh, I see, I was missing that particular piece. Let me try this now.”
  • “Interesting question! Let me explore that…”
  • “Okay, that’s less intimidating than I thought. I should just go for it.”
  • “I had no idea you could do that! Oooh…”

What can I write or draw to help people get those moments? How do I help people get unstuck – or better yet, how can I help them accelerate or expand their learning? And since I can code and tinker and dream… What can I make? Ideas are one thing, but tools are another. I’ll keep an eye out for places where people are consistently getting stuck, and I’ll see which ones lend themselves to automation.

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

As I explore packaging and publishing more, I want to focus on stuff that people can’t find in a gazillion other blogs and e-books out there. Keep me honest. =) I like making things free/pay-what-you-want, since it helps me act from abundance, widen the conversation, and make room for people’s generosity. I’ll also share the processes and tools I’m building for myself. If you find them interesting, tell me, and maybe we can find ways to tweak and expand them to accommodate your idiosyncrasies as well as mine. I like the conversations that grow out of this, too.

Some of my technical role models have published books (both self-published and traditional). I can see how that saves a lot of people time and helps people learn. They work on open source projects and commercial systems too. I think that’s the sort of information work I want: stuff that helps people do things.

Hmm… Aha! Maybe that’s it. If I focus on helping fellow geeks solve problems or try interesting things (mostly tech, some lifestyle?), then I don’t have to worry as much about wasting people’s attention. We’re used to trying things out and testing them against our own experience, and we’re used to telling people “Hey, that didn’t quite work for me” or “That saved me a few hours of figuring things out! Here’s something to make it even better.” =)

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

(No offense to life coaches, motivational speakers, and self-help authors. Hey, if it works for you, great. =) I don’t have the experience to give good, well-tested advice in that area yet.)

Technical guides, I think. My long-postponed book about Emacs. Short guides about Org Mode or automation or Evernote or information management. There’s a lot to write. These aren’t books people read for inspiration and the vague desire to do something someday; they address what people want to improve now. (Well, maybe Emacs is a little on the inspirational side. ;) )

It’s easy for me to connect with people who are already travelling similar paths. I can share my notes. I can reach out and ask questions. What about helping people who are just starting down those paths? Maybe that’s where packaging what I know can be useful, especially if I can help people accelerate their learning and diverge to follow their own questions. My selfish desire is to learn from other people’s perspectives. I don’t want to make people dependent on me, the way that people seem to become fans of one motivational speaker or another. I want people to learn from what I’ve learned, but I also want them to translate it to their contexts, test it against their lives, and add their own insights. I’m happy to spend extra time helping beginners who do stuff, think about it, and then go on to ask different questions.

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

So, what would the processes look like if I figured this out? I’d have a good balance of thinking, learning, doing, and sharing. I’d be able to work top-down from outlines, anticipating the questions people might have. I could work bottom-up from questions and blog posts, too. I might not notice that I have enough to publish, so I could establish triggers to check whether enough has accumulated that it needs to be chunked at a higher level of abstraction: Q&A or sketches into blog posts, blog posts into series, series into short books, short books into longer ones. I’d harvest all the generally useful Q&A from e-mail and conversations to make sure they’re captured in the pipeline somewhere, even if it’s an item in my Someday list.

Onward!

A No Excuses Guide to Blogging (PDF, EPUB, MOBI – free!); also, notes on publishing

This entry is part 1 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

First, a quick announcement: A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging is now available as a free/pay-what-you-want e-book so that you can work your way through your excuses without having to click through lots of blog posts. =)

Mock-up by Ramon Williamson


Mock-up by Ramon Williamson

The cover I made for Amazon

The cover I made for Amazon

The PDF looks prettiest if you’re reading it on your computer or tablet, and the EPUB/MOBI version is handy for other e-readers. You get all three (and any future updates) if you grab it from http://sachachua.com/no-excuses-blogging, or you can get the MOBI version from the Kindle store (currently $0.99, but eventually they’ll price-match it to $0). The book is under Creative Commons Attribution, so feel free to share it with other people. =)

UPDATE 2014-02-13: Here’s a one-page summary!

2014-02-13 A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging - Summary of 10 blogging excuses and how to work around them

2014-02-13 A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging – Summary of 10 blogging excuses and how to work around them

 

- Behind the scenes stuff! – 

So this was about 8 hours of packaging after I’d identified the topics and asked an assistant to compile all the blog posts in a Word document. I edited the text to make it fit better in a collection, fiddled with the graphics, added more sketches, tweaked the layout some more, fought with section headers, and eventually created a PDF that I was reasonably happy with. I contacted a bunch of people on Fiverr about converting the DOCX into EPUB and MOBI. While waiting for a response, I decided to try doing it myself. It took me some time to clean up the messy HTML, but I’m reasonably happy with how the EPUB worked out. I had to tweak the EPUB table of contents in order to get it to pass the validator used by Lulu, but eventually I got it worked out with Calibre and Sigil. The MOBI was a straight conversion from the EPUB, although I wonder if I can get the background colour to be white…

2014-02-05 Notes on publishing

2014-02-05 Notes on publishing

So that was interesting and useful, and it would be good to do more. Here are some ideas for other “No Excuses”-type guides I might put together. Maybe self-directed learning and delegation, actually, since other people are covering the sketchnoting bit quite well.

2014-02-06 What other excuses can I collect and work around

2014-02-06 What other excuses can I collect and work around

There’s also this list of other book ideas, Thinking with Emacs, Tracking Your Time, Accelerating Your Learning with Sketchnotes, and this big outline. Lots to do. Looking forward to figuring out how I can get more of these out the door. =)

In the meantime… tada! http://sach.ac/no-excuses-blogging

Series NavigationWrite about what you don’t know: 5 tips to help you do research for your blog »

How to develop your ideas into blog posts

This entry is part 13 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Do you find it easy to come up with lots of ideas for blog posts, but then find it difficult to sit down and actually write them–or spend hours drafting, only to decide that it’s not quite ready for posting?

I know what that’s like. On the subway, I jot a few notes for a post I want to write. At home, I add more ideas to my outline. Sometimes when I look at those notes, I think, “What on earth is this about?” Other times, I write a paragraph or two, and then my attention wanders. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot better at getting posts out there. I still have more ideas than I can write, but at least a few of them make it into my blog! Here’s what works for me, and I hope it works for you too.

Capture your ideas. Write them down somewhere: a text file, an Evernote notebook, a piece of paper, whatever fits the way you work. You don’t have to write everything down, but it helps to have a list of ideas when you sit down to write. I use Evernote to take quick notes on my phone, and I use Org Mode for Emacs for my outline.

“Oh no! Now I have this huge list of unfinished ideas!” Don’t be intimidated. Think of it like a buffet – you can choose what you want, but it doesn’t mean that you have to finish everything.

Pick one idea and turn it into a question. Pick the idea that you’re most curious about, perhaps, or something that you’re learning. Turn it into a question so that you have a focus for your writing and you know when you’ve answered it. Questions help you keep both your perspective and your reader’s perspective in mind. Remembering your question will help you bring your focus back to it if your attention wanders. Remembering your readers’ potential question will help you empathize with them and write for them.

Break that question down into smaller questions until you can actually answer it in one sitting. For example: “How can you blog more?” is too big a question. In this post, I want to focus on just “How do you get past having lots of ideas that you don’t turn into blog posts?” Make the question as small as you can. You can always write another blog post answering the next question, and the next, and the next.

When you find yourself getting stuck, wrap up there. That probably means that your question was too big to begin with. Break it down even further. Figure out the question that your blog post answers, and revise your post a little so that it makes sense. Post. You can follow up with a better answer later. You can build on your past posts. Don’t wait until it’s complete. Post along the way.

I often run into this problem while writing technical posts. I start with “How do you do ABC?”… and get stuck halfway because of a bug or something I don’t understand. Then I turn my post into “Trouble-shooting XYZ” with my rough notes of how I’m figuring things out. I’d rather have written a complete guide, of course, but mistakes and false starts and rough notes are also useful in themselves.

Don’t think that you have to know everything and write everything perfectly the first time around. In fact, blogging can be more interesting and more useful when you do it as part of your journey.

Perfectionist? Take a close look at that anxiety. See if you can figure out what the root of that is. Is it useful for you, or is it getting in your way? There’s an advantage to being outwardly polished, yes, but there’s also an advantage to learning quickly and building relationships. One of the tips I picked up from the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Heath and Heath, 2013) was the idea of testing the stakes. Make a few small, deliberate mistakes. Ooch your way to better confidence. (See page 138 if you want more details.)

Tell me if this helps, or if you’re still getting stuck. More blogging excuse-busters here!

Series Navigation« Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer4 steps to a better blog by planning your goals and post types »

A no-excuses guide to blogging

UPDATE 2014-02-05: Download the PDF/EPUB/MOBI: A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging (free, pay what you want)

What’s getting in your way when it comes to writing?

2014-01-31 Getting good ideas out of your head - a path to publishing

2014-01-31 Getting good ideas out of your head – a path to publishing

Here are even more excuses, and some tips for dealing with them. =)

Excuse: “I don’t know what to write about.”
Write about what you don’t know.
Pay attention to what you’re learning.
Figure out what you think.
Ask for feedback.
Deal with writer’s block
Find tons of topics
Excuse: “There’s so much I can’t write about.”
Focus on what you can’t help but sharing.
Excuse: “But I’m not an expert yet!”
Share while you learn
Excuse: “I don’t want to be wrong.”
Test what you know by sharing
Excuse: “I feel so scattered and distracted.”
Don’t worry about your strategy
It’s okay to write about different things
Plan, organize, write, improve
Excuse: “I have all these ideas, but I never finish posts…”
Turn your ideas into small questions, then answer those.
Excuse: “I don’t feel like I’m making progress towards my goals.”
Be clear about your goals and possible approaches.
Excuse: “It takes too much time to write.”
Make sharing part of the way you work.
Excuse: “I’m too tired to write.”
Figure out what you can write better when you’re tired.
Excuse: “No one’s going to read it anyway.”
Focus on selfish benefits.
Get other people to read your posts.

See also other tips for new bloggers, and other posts related to blogging and writing. (Plus this list of WordPress plugins I use, if you’re curious about tech!)

Feel free to comment or email with more excuses and tips!

Stepping up to publishing

Number of sketches in blog posts

Number of sketches in blog posts

A nifty thing about experiments is that you can often see their impact when you review, even if the changes are less visible day to day. For example, I’ve resolved to be my own client and spend less time consulting, more time writing–and to be more selfish about my writing (that is, to give myself even more permission to write about personal reflections while figuring things out). It’s been a little over a week since then, and I noticed something interesting. I’ve drawn roughly the same number of sketches, but the difference is that I’ve been digging deeper into my questions over a series of sketches instead of scattering my sketches over a wide range of topics. That makes it easier to write a blog post that ties together different questions. To be fair, there’s a large set from last week that I haven’t written up, but I like this workflow so far.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move towards writing things that are useful for both me and others. Ramon Williamson and Paul Kripp nudged me to think more about packaging and publishing my notes – creating an interface for what I know. Since I have a large archive and perhaps an idiosyncratic way of describing things, searching for tips can be difficult. A good way to find things is to ask me: blog comments, e-mail, real-time conversations (free or paid). If I take the time to organize what I know–to draw those paths through the material, and to translate/update reflections into tips–people will find it easier to learn. It takes work and it seems like a distraction from going ever onward, but doing this allows me to help people learn faster, so then we can all get to the more interesting questions.

I was thinking about whom I get to talk to because of this writing and sharing. A lot of people come to this blog because they’re searching for something specific: Emacs tips, for example. A surprising number of people explore more and stick around, because it turns out we have a lot of common interests or they like what I share. I know what this feels like – I love coming across blogs I resonate with too. These people are my tribe. (Well, sans tribal leader; I think of us more as peers. =) ) A few people become part of my life as confederates: I know what they’re interested in and I’m comfortable reaching out to them if I’m trying to figure something out. Different kinds of sharing reach different kinds of people. I don’t expect casual readers to read through one of my long reflections. I can serve them best with tightly-focused tips.

2014-01-29 Translating what I learn

2014-01-29 Translating what I learn

How can I make it easier for people to come closer and take advantage of what I’m learning? For searchers, I think it’s important to make talking to me less intimidating. I like questions. Writing clear tips and arranging resources into maps or sequences can help, too.

For people who would like to be tribe members, making subscription easier might help. I’m switching over to using Mailchimp so that people can set up daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly subscriptions, and I’ve written about using feed readers. If you want to subscribe to a subset of my blog (for example, just learning tips), e-mail me and I’ll help you figure that out. =) More importantly, though, I can build relationships with people by offering and asking for help.

As for confederates, I find that a lot of these conversations evolve out of the questions I post and the feedback I share after applying people’s advice. I can ask more questions and get better at learning from people. I can also pay more attention and learn more about people’s interests: checking out their tweets or blog posts, following them for the serendipity of overheard conversations.

2014-01-29 Building people's capacities

2014-01-29 Building people’s capacities

One of the reasons to publish is to reach an audience that might not even know that this could be useful for them. I feel like this about a lot of books – I hadn’t thought of looking for the information, but I’m glad I came across it. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before you can get to that level of reach, though. I don’t think I’d ever be up for a book tour. I like being home. =) I suspect that a very wide reach might be more hassle than it’s worth, but that might just be anxiety talking, and Stoicism might help me get past that.

2014-01-29 Calibrating the right level of reach or obscurity

2014-01-29 Calibrating the right level of reach or obscurity

So really, what are my excuses for not having packaged and published more? When it comes down to it, I really don’t have a good excuse. Yes, it’s tempting to keep pushing on to new topics, new ideas, new experiments. But if I skip the sharing part – or do it in a superficial manner, sharing my reflections without integrating it further – then I shortchange myself. As SketchyMuslims indirectly reminded me by quoting me:

The time I take to share what I learn is the most valuable part of my learning process.

The learning machine: How I turn what I learn into blog posts (me – September 2013!)

It’s not enough for me to turn my reflections into blog posts. I need to work on them again and turn them into insights that I can share with people. Maybe I’ll use the “reflection” tag to indicate stuff I’m mostly writing for myself (although other people can chime in, of course) and the “tips” tag to indicate stuff I’m writing mostly for other people. That turns it into something trackable. For example, this is very much a me-thinking-out-loud sort of post.

2014-01-30 Publishing - what's in my way, and how do I get past it

2014-01-30 Publishing – what’s in my way, and how do I get past it

One way that I like dealing with my excuses is to convince myself of the selfish benefits of doing something. In this case: Yes, books are good for helping people learn. They are good for serendipitous learning. They’re better at surviving than blogs are. More than that, books let people physically interact with ideas – to highlight, add notes, dogear, pass on to others… I’d love to eventually learn how to build these resources to help people learn, so why not sooner rather than later?

2014-01-30 On packaging and publishing

2014-01-30 On packaging and publishing

Besides, I can get a lot of benefits out of putting together books. The immediate benefit is that I can save time explaining things, since I can set people on a path that guides them for the most part. The secondary benefit is that I learn more deeply by revisiting the topics and organizing them into paths. The tertiary benefit (and the most awesome one!) is that I can help people learn faster, catch up faster, so that we all get to the point of asking more interesting questions. If I can help people learn more, I can learn more from them. And there’s the totally awesome feeling that Paul Klipp shared with me: that of getting a physical copy of your ideas into your hands! (I should definitely check out CreateSpace.)

2014-01-30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing

2014-01-30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing

The path is straightforward, and there really aren’t any barriers in my way. It’s all about butt-in-chair time: devoting some time to reviewing, revising, organizing, packaging. Well, there are some things that can help.

  • Questions! Questions are awesome because they help me figure out what people might find useful, what sequence might be good, and what’s missing. Ask me questions. Comments, Twitter, Google+, e-mail, Helpouts… Don’t worry about asking questions about things I’ve already covered before – in fact, please ask, so that I can make those things more findable and understandable.
  • Confederates and tribe members! I learn a ton by talking to people who are actively trying to figure things out too. =)

That’s how you can help. As for me, there are lots of little things I can do every day to move things forward.

2014-01-30 Small steps towards publishing

2014-01-30 Small steps towards publishing

The goal: More coherent, logically ordered, clearly written, other-focused chunks (maybe 15-30 pages?) that people can read at their convenience.  Let’s make it happen!