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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!

Experience report/invitation: Pick my brain through Google Helpouts

Quick note: You can book free help sessions with me through sach.ac/help. There’s a listing focused on note-taking/visual thinking, and I have two other listings focused on Emacs and introversion going through the review process. Feel free to talk to me about other topics, too!)

UPDATE 2013/11/07: More notes at the end!

I’ve been looking for ways to make it easier to help people online. ScheduleOnce + Skype/Google Hangout was great, but scheduling was a bit cumbersome, and sometimes one-hour chats felt a little awkward. When Google announced their new Helpouts service, I signed up to be one of the early providers. I started with note-taking and visual thinking because those are useful skills that a lot of people need help with, compared to digital sketchnoting workflows which would be a tiny tiny niche.

2013-10-24 Google Helpout

Although Google Helpouts lets you charge for your sessions, I decided to focus on giving help for free instead. I wanted to see what it was like and what I could help people with, and I didn’t want people to worry about the cost. I also didn’t want to worry about expectations! So I set up my Helpout listing, practised with a few people, and set aside some available slots in my calendar.

My first few Helpouts were surprisingly fun. I talked to a number of people who were either Helpout providers or people who had received invitation codes to try it out. One session turned into an awesome Emacs geeking around thing, which I need to post at some point. =)

2013-11-02 Google Helpouts Experience Report

And then it was the official launch day. Google Helpouts was open! I woke up to more than a dozen sign-ups, and my phone kept buzzing with notifications throughout the day. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Many of the other Helpout providers said they were seeing a lot of no-shows. I didn’t mind because that meant I could get a bit of a breather in between the 15-minute sessions. I had some time to e-mail people and ask them some questions before starting, which really helped.

2013-11-05 Additional Helpout observations

I talked to students about study skills, teachers about teaching, and professionals about mindmaps and other thinking tools. I was nervous going in, but I was delighted to find that the conversations flowed well. I could think of questions for people to clarify what they needed and I shared tips that they could try. Afterwards, I felt a little buzzy, but not as much as I do from presentations (very very buzzed!) or hour-long chats.

Since the service has just launched and I’m offering a free Helpout, many people who signed up probably won’t make it to the sessions. Coding is terrible when it comes to interruptions, but drawing seems to be just fine.

2013-11-05 How does Google Helpout fit in with my goals

I really like the way answering people’s quick questions helps me validate that people want and need what I can share, and it gives me a better sense of who’s out there.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to experiment with how this fits into my flow. Where do I want to put it in my schedule, and how does it interact with the other work I want to do? Because Helpouts can break my time into lots of little segments, I want to make sure I still have blocks of focused time for deep work. I also want to avoid introvert overwhelm, and I want to focus on proactive content instead of letting Helpouts swing me too much towards being reactive. That’s why I’ve been setting aside blocks of 1-2 hours for Helpout scheduling instead of letting it take over my day. Now that we’re off Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets pretty early too, so I’m experimenting with another change to my consulting schedule. I want to make sure that I do right by my consulting client, too, and I don’t want to drop my personal projects.

Hardware-wise, I like my current setup. I handled all the calls from my newly-re-set-up desk downstairs, with a webcam, lights, and external monitor. I don’t want the sessions to interfere with W-‘s concentration, though. If he’s at home instead of at the gym, I can work in the kitchen with my extended battery. I’ll keep an Ethernet cable there as well. The kitchen isn’t as well-lit, but it will do.

So it looks like this month’s experiment will be connecting through Google Helpouts – reaching out and helping random(ish) strangers. I’m making surprisingly good progress towards my goals of modulating my pace. I’m getting better at matching people. I’m also working on articulating my thoughts without repeating words or phrases, since a stutter tends to shows up when I’m excited. If I can get the hang of harvesting questions from these Helpouts and turning them into blog posts, that would be even better. =)

UPDATE 2013/11/07:

This is working out really well! Most people respond to my intro messages, so I have a sense of what they’re interested in before we start. I’ve talked to lots of people in school who want to improve their study skills, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I can offer tips that they hadn’t considered. Enthusiasm carries across well in video chats too – it’s great to be able to bounce ideas or cheer people on. Best of all, I’ve been able to connect with people who read my blog or chat with me on Twitter – it’s just like jumping into the middle of a good conversation. I’m turning the tips into more drawings, which I’ll post on my blog. (Hmm, I should set up a mailing list…) I’ve set up AutoHotkey shortcuts for my welcome message and various URLs I find myself often sharing. There are occasional no-shows, but I don’t mind because I draw and reflect during the gaps. I just leave the Helpout window open in the background as I draw on paper. In fact, sometimes I wish people will miss their appointment so that I can keep on going. And the gradual accumulation of positive reviews is ego-gratifying – it means the stuff I learned along the way is useful, and I’m glad I can share it. =)

All of my slots are booked at the moment, which is a little mind-boggling. I’ll probably open up more after December, or maybe even during December once I figure out what my schedule is going to be like. I’m not going to open up a ton more for this month because 1-2 hours a day of intense talking to people is probably a good limit. Some days have slightly more because I got carried away with setting up my availability in the beginning, and I didn’t want to cancel any. =) Maybe I’ll settle down to ~1-2 hours every other day, and possibly have a mailing list for tips and new availability. It’s an awesome feeling helping other people out, although I also want to make sure I keep making progress on my other (quieter) projects! <laugh>

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Want to give Helpouts a try? You can schedule a session with me at sach.ac/help or browse through the other sessions at helpouts.google.com. I think you can sign up there to offer your own, too. Have fun!

Sharing Google Docs: One link to edit, one link to view

Lots of people posted tips in the Google Helpouts Discuss community, but the tips were getting lost in the stream of messages. I decided to pull out the tips, rewrite them for clarity, and organize them by topic. I didn’t want to be the keeper of the document, though – no sense in my being a bottleneck! So I started a new document in Google Docs, fleshed it out, and shared the link.

To share a link that lets anyone with the link edit the document:

  1. Click on File > Share…
  2. Under Who has access, change the first line to Anyone who has the link can edit.
  3. Copy the link.
  4. Click Done.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to publishing the document to the Web, you probably don’t want just anyone editing it. Here’s how to publish a separate read-only link:

  1. Click on File > Publish to the web…
  2. Publish the document
  3. Copy the link.

Since Google URLs are long and unwieldy, you may want to come up with custom short URLs for both the edit link and the read-only link.

Hope that helps!