It’s a pattern I see in my work a lot: I grind away on a project and it slowly grinds to a halt. Progress stops. Sometimes I can explain that to myself, sometimes I don’t know why I’m not making progress. But things come to a halt, and the project fights me tooth and nail, or I put the project in a corner and do something else instead because — ultimately — it’s not fun.
In my professional world when this happens, I just have to grind it out, or go out for a long walk (or three) and have a long talk with myself over why things aren’t progressing, or just keep trying to pull the project apart and work on pieces that I can make progress on.
But here in my personal world, I can leave the project alone and let it marinate and then at some point I suddenly realize I know why the project isn’t working for me and what the solution is.
I had that breakthrough this week. Pretty literally as I was sitting at the keyboard writing a work email. Almost literally halfway through a paragraph where suddenly what was hitting the screen was the answer to the problem I hadn’t consciously identified.
Welcome to my life. This used to annoy me greatly, especially when I was fighting deadlines and everyhting around me looked like crap. Now, I understand the process better, and I just let my subconscious chew on things as much as I can because I know if I give it time, I’ll like what comes out the other side. Works great, if I have time — and it’s one reason my home deadlines now tend to be… fluid. that and work keeping me insanely busy.
There are two problems in the redesign I’ve been blocking on. The first is that I love the format of the Three Dot Lounge summary postings I’ve been doing (and people generally seem to like them) — but I don’t like them as blog postings. They’re a manufactured compromise and I like the format and I like the content and how I’m writing it, but I didn’t like those things within the context of it being a blog post.
And it was bothering me, a lot, in the way that things bother a designer that probably only the design will ever notice. It mattered to me, and I didn’t have a clue how to fix it.
The second problem? I’ve been trying to understand how to make content available to people in a post-RSS world. Since Google terminated Google Reader I think a lot of us have been trying to understand how to make content accessible to readers in ways the readers can (and will!) use it and be happy with using it. Much of the tracking of content that used to be done by subscribing to RSS feeds is now done by following on social (especially Twitter) and that works fine for my with my audience, although it’s changed how readers interact with content, how it’s published and how it’s shared.
But not everyone does social and I just haven’t felt like I had a good answer to “I want to subscribe but I don’t do twitter”. I did set up a mailing list for the blog so that every posting that goes out gets sent to the mailing list. In practice, I find those have very light subscription and very little traction — and I don’t like them very much. Email simply isn’t a good replacement for RSS because email is strongly interrupting of a person’s life and workflow, because every time you stuff something in their inbox things around them go PING and they feel the need to stop and figure out if whatever went PING is important. Blog posts are, much as I love what I write, inherently going to fail that check.
So two different aspects of the production/publication/distribution model on the site were broken (and to be fair, were broken in the old version of the site) , and I had no idea how I wanted to fix them. A third problem I was grappling with was what was the growth path if one of these gains a significant audience. With the photography I split it out into its own site, but I wasn’t feeling particularly thrilled at the idea of spawning everything off onto its own site over time. That’s a good problem to have, I guess, but still a problem.
As it turns out, once I figured this out, it turned into a “well, duh!” moment. The Three Dot Lounge pieces are, in fact, email newsletters disguised as blog posts.
The thing is, a long time ago in a fruit company far, far away I built email systems for a living. Many email systems. Large email systems. And then one day, I realized I couldn’t keep doing email, and I ended up handing off the projects and moving on to new opportunities. Of course, my first job after swearing off doing email was for a company where — of course — I built email systems, but after a couple of months we all realized that wasn’t a smart decision on my part and I moved on again. Since then, I’ve generally avoided email projects.
But it’s been long enough now that the hesitation to dive into email again is gone, and this is clearly a good project to explore as email. And it feels like the right decision. There’s a larger discussion to be had about how communication online is changing (and, frankly, how advertising and RSS combined to do a big disservice to online content by biasing towards high volume churn publishing styles) that we should have some other time.
So I have this cunning plan
So here’s the plan. As it turns out, threedotlounge.com happened to be available, so it’s now mine and currently mirroring this site. I’m going to carve out a sub-site on this site as part of the redesign to handle the lists and the archives. It’ll live on www.chuqui.com/threedotlounge and the new domain will display that tree when it’s used. The lists themselves will live on Mailchimp; I really like their service and I’m not idiotic enough to run my own mailing lists, but the goal is to try to own as much of the content to my own sites as possible (think Indieweb).
We’re starting with three mailing lists:
- Teal Sunglasses: three dots of hockey and sports — monthly to weekly (in season) hockey, sports and the business of sports
- Three Dots of Photography: news, updates and interesting stuff from Photography.chuqui.com
- Three Dot Lounge: news and updates from chuqui.com and around the internet
- What’s up?
- Three Dots
- New and interesting from Chuq Von Rospach
- For Your Consideration (pointers reviews and amazon links)
- User comments and feedback
- Closing thought
- Lawyerspeak (subscribe, unsub, t&c, etc)
The goal is to make it 2-3 typical screens; short enough people won’t mind flipping pages, long enough to get some depth into the writing.
What about the blog and existing sites?
The newsletters — like the current three dot postings — are about sifting through and curating and commenting on what’s going on around the net. They are external views of what’s happening. This won’t affect the blog at all, and I fully intend to continue writing original, longer form content for the blog. Moving these to the lists helps solve a problem I’ve grappled with which is how to keep things clear to new users and focussed when I talk about multiple subjects (that’s one reason why I cut back on non-photography talk for a while, because I dind’t wnt too many different or incompatible things going on at the same time). The investment in spinning up a topic-specific list is a lot less painful than doing that with a full web site, so that should also make it easier for me to build out ways to expan the topic areas while keeping it easier for people who only want to focus on one or a few.
So I’m now happy with the plan, and this allows me to go and work on editing and migrating the content knowing where everything belongs and why it belongs there.
A few final thoughts
My plan is for each newsletter to be archived online and available through an archive page, but it won’t be published online until sometime after (24 hours or more) the email goes out. I am also working on plans for exclusive content that only goes to the newsletter and not published online as a way to encourage people to subscribe, and probably early access to special content before the online communities will have access to them — things like wallpapers and ebooks, for instance. So there’ll be an advantage to subscribing to the newsletter, but the content overall will for the most part flow to the online world (and search engines), just not immediately.
And.. when? good question. I don’t know. About 20% of the work left to do is creation of things (pages, email lists, etc) and doing the design and graphics for them. About 80% of the work is data editing and migration, which is straightforward but time consuming (to do it right) and rather tedious. Lots of detail work, and right now, I think I’m over teh worst of the work overload but not all of it, and I’m not entirely clear how many hours a week I’ll have for this — and, of course, there are other projects competing for my attention, although I finished one last week (more on that soon) and another major one (completely re-organizing and cleaning out the garage and setting up the workshop again) is finally in its last phase and starting to wind up. Of course, as soon as that’s done, I have to get going on the yardwork, which is seriously behind…
So, this should all ship in 2015, and once I have a slightly more granular timeframe, I’ll let you know… My gut is guessing start of June and hoping I can ship just before I head out for Cisco Live in San Diego. But I’m not betting on it (so maybe early July for my birthday)
But still, finally, some nice progress again…