Category Archives: metaphor

Making personal blogs useful for other people too

When people ask my advice on starting a blog, I encourage them to start a personal one. I don’t mean that they should focus on writing about what they had for lunch or ranting about something that frustrates them, although they can, if they want to. I mean that it’s okay to let their blog reflect them – the quirks of their interests and personality, the little things about them that make them different. I think it’s because I hate reading those generic articles of passed-on advice that could have been written by anyone (and indeed, are often churned out a dozen at a time by low-paid freelancers). Our biases show in our advice.

On this blog, I tend to lean very firmly on the side of personal reflections – things I haven’t quite figured out enough to clearly explain. When you know something, you can explain it in a way that makes sense, and people see that logic and immediately get that you get it. This is why a well-structured course or book is a thing of beauty. It straightens out the path of learning and helps you get to your goal faster.

When you’re still making sense of something, you go in stops and starts. You wander down cul-de-sacs and dawdle along trails. You circle around something, trying to see it from different angles. This is me when I write, following the butterfly of a question somewhere. Perhaps with more editing and more planning, I can hide all of it and present you with just the polished end. But that goes against what I want to encourage.

When someone writes a tutorial with the reader in mind – like drawing a map for someone else to follow – you need to do very little to adapt it to your situation. You can see yourself in it, and you can see how to apply what you want to learn. On the other hand, personal reflections require more translation. It’s like the difference between reading a guidebook that someone has written for tourists and a travel journal with observations that sometimes slip into shorthand. You take the guidebook when you go places; you read the journal if you want the feel of someone else’s feel of a place.

There’s a middle ground here between guidebook and travel journal: a travelogue, written for yourself but also with an eye to other people reading it. In a travelogue, you might take a little more time to explain why a place matters to you instead of simply jotting down a few cryptic references to things that only you know. You might try a little harder to capture the local flavour. You might point out things that perhaps you’re not personally interested in but that other people might find interesting.

I think that’s what I’d like this blog to grow into over the years and years ahead. I’d like to write a travelogue of life. Far away from the “Top 10 Things to See in __“-type lists, but more than just a photo album of snapshots or a scrapbook of tickets and brochures. Something in the middle.

And I think that feeling one gets when you read a good account–not “Oh, that sounds exotic,” or “I wish I could go,” but rather something that hovers between a new appreciation for unfamiliar things and the familiarity of recognizing home in a strange place–that might be something good to learn how to evoke in readers (you and my future, forgetful self).

Coming back from this extended metaphor – on this blog, the kinds of things that seem to have evoked that kind of a response are:

  • Sketchnotes and other visual summaries/thoughts – interesting and easy to share
  • Emacs tips and other technical tidbits – useful
  • Decisions, reasons, experiments, reflections – sometimes they lead to things like “I feel like that too!” “Mm, that’s interesting.” “Have you considered…?”

So here are some things I might try in order to help this personal blog be more useful to other people (not just me):

  • Harvest more from notes, and organize them better.
    • Make skimming easier by creating more structure with summaries, paragraphs, lists, and formatting. If people can skim faster, that saves them time and lets them focus on what’s more relevant to them.
    • Think of other people more when writing; translate “I” to “you” occasionally so that other people don’t have to
  • Do more research and summarize the results. Bringing in other people’s experiences and insights can help me learn faster and it also gives me more to share with others.
  • Try more experiments. This is like going more places. I don’t think I’ll ever be patient enough to hold off writing until the end of the journey; I’m more of a write-along-the-way sort of person. But here’s a structure that can make it better:
    • Initial post: Share the plans and invite people along
    • Middle post: Share preliminary observations and progress, link back to initial post, connect with any others who’ve joined
    • Conclusion: summarize findings, link back to previous posts and to co-adventurers

If you have a personal blog, would any of these ideas work for you as well? Tell me how it’s going!

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.

Visual metaphors: Success

image

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. I’m drawing these to help expand my visual vocabulary for drawing sketchnotes. It’s a good way to exercise. Any suggestions?

Visual metaphor: Danger

danger

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!

Visual metaphors: Trust

trust

Click on the image for a larger version.

We show trust by shaking hands, and by looking people in the eyes. Open body language: “Trust me.” Closed: “I don’t trust you.” Blindfold exercises are popular at team-building sessions. Blind trust is dangerous, though. You could get stabbed in the back.

We don’t trust rickety things. We trust solid ones. We used to trust institutions. Now, maybe not so much. Some are more trustworthy than others. No one trusts a used-car salesman… But for some reason, we trust celebrity endorsements, suits, anything printed, charts, and precise numbers (even wrong ones).

We don’t trust poisonous things, or cats around cheeseburgers. We trust puppy-dog eyes and babies.

Contracts are usually a good idea, because you should trust but verify.

Trust is like launching yourself into the air, hoping that your partner will catch you… but you’d better have a safety net too. A good one.

Trust is like a crystal vase that’s hard to fix when it’s broken, like a bone that heals but will never be the same.

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!

Visual metaphors: Change

visual metaphors

Click on the image for a larger version.

Change is a journey. Sometimes you have a map, or a guide, or signposts, but usually just a long and winding road (if that), with the occasional fork or crossroad.

Change is like scaling a cliff or climbing the stairs.

You can have fun with the idea, too.

Change is also transformation, growth, decline.

You can pun about change.

Graphs are handy, too.

Spirals show iteration… Change can sometimes be like taking three steps forward and two steps back. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!