Working Notes: Breakthroughs

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.

The problem(s)

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.

Well, duh….

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, 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 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
  • Three Dot Lounge: news and updates from and around the internet
Here’s the elevator pitch: is the place where you can get information about what you’re interested conveniently curated and packaged to fit into your busy life. You don’t have time to follow dozens of web sites: now you don’t have to.
And the longer introduction: is the place where you can get information about what you’re interested conveniently curated and packaged to fit into your busy life. You don’t have time to follow dozens of web sites: now you don’t have to. Each threedotlounge e-newsletter is package crafted to help you find the interesting content while avoiding the noise. We scour the internet, and on a regular basis we will send you a collection of the things we think are worth your time and attention, as well as our discussion and commentary on the issues of the day. You will also get access to the original content we publish on these topics, early access to our new work and publications, and exclusive gifts and surprises we will make available only to the subscribers of our mailing lists.
That should give you a sense of where this is going. Each list will be published no more frequently than once a week — and only if there’s enough content to warrant it (we believe in fewer emails, not more filler) — so they will enhance your inbox, not fill them. The hockey list will likely be weekly in-season, monthly out of season. the other two lists likely start every other week alternating. If I can dedicate the time and there’s enough interest, I’d like to see them go weekly at some point, assuming there’s content worthy of it and good feedback.
Here’s my idea of a typical newsletter:
  • Welcome/intro
  • ToC
  • What’s up?
  • Three Dots
  • Quicklinks
  • 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…





Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public

Can the Sharks Make the Playoffs? — Teal Sunglasses for March 31, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Most rational people look at the Sharks record and go schedule their tee times — in fact, I called it for the fat lady a while ago.

And yet, Laurie and I were talking about the schedules the other night, and it was clear that Dallas’s schedule is an absolute disaster for them, and Winnipeg Jet’s aren’t sending chocolates to the schedule makers right now, either. And the Sharks have been playing just well enough that  had to wonder — do they have a chance?

Well, mathematically, yes. Maybe. Barely. Here’s the math, for your amusement and bar bets.

My view is there are five teams chasing two playoff spots: the third seed in the Pacific and the second wildcard spot. The first wildcard spot is out of reach. The five teams chasing those two spots are:

  • San Jose (83 points, 6 to play)
  • Dallas (84 points, 5 to play)
  • Los Angeles (88 points, six to play)
  • Winnipeg (90 points, five to play)
  • Calgary (91 points, five to play)

To factor in the overtime points, I use Points-per-game instead of wins and losses because it simplifies the math a lot.

So what I did was look at each of these team’s remaining schedule, what’s at home, what’s away, which games are back to back (and on the road requiring travel?) and how many games are against other teams in this fight. Out of that I gave each team a relative strength of schedule value. Here are (as of the time I’m writing this) the remaining schedules and for each opponent their # of points in the last ten games as well, as a way of judging how well they’re playing. (the three stars are games where two of these teams go head to head against each other)

  • San Jose: 83 [11/20]
    • Col [11/20]
    • Ari [4/20]
    • @Ari [4/20] – BTB
    • Dal [14/20] ***
    • @Edm [12/20]
    • @LA [11/20] ***
  • Dallas: 84 [14/20]
    • StL [10/20]
    • @Nas [13/20]
    • @San [11/20] ***
    • @Ana [14/20]
    • Nas [13/20]
  • Los Angeles 88 [11/20]
    • Edm [12/20]
    • Col [11/20]
    • @Van [15/20]
    • @Edm [12/20] – BTB
    • @Cal [12/20] ***
    • San [11/20] ***
  • Winnipeg 90 [12/20]
    • NYR [12/20]
    • Van [13/20]
    • @Min [16/20]
    • @StL [10/20] – BTB
    • @Col [11/20]
    • Cal [12/20] ***
  • Calgary 91 [12/20]
    • @StL [10/20]
    • @Edm [12/20]
    • Ari [4/20]
    • LA [11/20] ***
    • @Winnipeg [12/20] ***

Strength of Schedule

I looked at each team’s remaining schedule, how well they were playing, how well their opponents were playing, whether they had back to backs and how many opponents were in this fight for the playoffs. For each team, I assigned an adjustment value, with softer schedules adding points to their predicted final point count, and tough schedules deducting.

The good news is the Sharks have the easiest schedule of the teams in this fight — except, of course, for their tendency to lose games to weaker teams. If you’re Winnipeg or especially Dallas, this last two weeks do you no favors. These are my strength of schedule adjustments, which are the number of points I expect the final results to change from what the trend is predicting:

  • San Jose (+2)
  • Dallas (-2)
  • Los Angeles (0)
  • Winnipeg (-1)
  • Calgary (+1)


What’s all this mean?

Max Points is the most points a team can get if it runs its schedule — wins every game left. Trend Points is what we can expect a team to end up with based on their points per game over the last ten games. And the Predicted Points is my prediction based on the trend and my evaluation of strength of schedule.

  • San Jose
    • Max Points: 95
    • Trend points: 89
    • Predicted points: 91
  • Dallas
    • Max Points: 94
    • Trend points: 91
    • Predicted points: 89
  • Los Angeles
    • Max Points: 100
    • Trend points: 94
    • Predicted points:94
  • Winnipeg
    • Max Points: 102
    • Trend points: 97
    • Predicted points: 96
  • Calgary
    • Max Points: 101
    • Trend points: 96
    • Predicted points: 97

In other words

The sharks have a non-zero chance of making the playoffs, but it’s really, really close to zero.

My predicted finish is:

  • Calgary: 97 points and third seed in the Pacific
  • Winnipeg: 96 points and 2nd Wildcard seed
  • Los Angeles: 94 points and missing the playoffs
  • San Jose: 91 points and missing the playoffs
  • Dallas: 89 points and missing the playoffs

So I do expect the Sharks to pass Dallas, but not quite catch LA, much less catching both LA and Winnipeg and slipping into the playoffs. I expect it to take 95 points to make the playoffs, and the Sharks would have to literally run the table to get there. There’s nothing in the Sharks play, either recently or any time this season, to cause me to believe that remotely possible. But this playoff race is close enough to not make assumptions, but there’s nothing in the math, or in the team’s recent play, to make me think anything’s going to change at this point.

If I’m Winnipeg, I’m keeping a close eye on the Kings. The Kings could make this interesting — and probably will. This means that last game of the season, with San Jose in Los Angeles to close things out, could well be the game that means the Kings make it in or not. If I’m the Jets, I’m going to want to play to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Or at least, happen to the Jets, because if Winnipeg ramps up its play a bit, all it might take is one more win than predicted for them to lap Calgary — and while I’m predicting Calgary to come out on top here, one or two wins or losses could well be the difference between third seed in the playoffs and watching from the outside. None of the three teams seriously chasing those last two spots has any margin of error, and the one who makes mistakes in the last six games will be the one to miss out. It’s that close.

But for San Jose, I have to say it’s over, except for that possible chance to spoil things for the Kings, which given the history between the two teams, should make that last game of the season likely meaningful, very frisky, and a lot of fun to watch.

The only thing Dallas is playing for now is for the pride of not letting San Jose sneak past at the last minute. And given their schedule, that may be tough.

There is enough good hockey here though to keep hockey fans happy until the second season starts.

At this point? I’ll take that.

And then we’ll see how the Sharks react to missing the dance for the first time in a while.

Late edit: thinking upon this a bit more, how close were the Sharks to making the playoffs? If the Sharks had won the game against Winnipeg on March 17 that would put San Jose at a predicted 93 points, LA at a predicted 94 points, and Winnipeg at a predicted 94 points. In other words, one game difference and there’s a virtual three way tie for that last spot. If the Sharks were to have won that game and EITHER of the two Calgary games in February, all four of these teams would have been a dead heat with the Sharks being the team to beat.

And if the Sharks had won the outdoor game against LA, one of those two games against Calgary, and the game against Winnipeg, they would have pretty clearly beaten out everyone and taken third in the Pacific.

But the fact is, in games against teams it’s now fighting to pass to make the playoffs, the Sharks are  4-5-1 (9 points of 20 possible) against the teams currently fighting for those playoff spots. As a measure of how well the Sharks played against teams the record says are about equivalent in performance this season, their record is — mediocre.

But a good argument can be made the difference between playoffs and golf in San Jose is three games and about six goals.

Close, but no cigar. Six goals against teams they knew they had to beat — and didn’t.




Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Working Notes: One month later

It’s been a full month since I’ve updated the redesign project, primarily because — except for one stolen evening — it’s been a full month since I’ve had a chance to work on it. The one night I did have time to work on it, a lot came together quickly.



So as it stands, I’ve been able to design in much of the high level design details — the front page, site menus, font choices, header weights, etc etc. So the core foundation is in place. It’ll need some detail tweaking as I add content to it, but..

Now, what it needs is content. Which will take some cycles and time.. sigh.

At this point if I could dedicate some evenings to it I could finish it in seven to ten evenings. I currently have no real clue when I’ll be able to allocate that many evenings, since I’m still in “find a free evening” mode, even though the work crush is mellowing out — but there are some other projects sucking up my time as well I need to push towards completion as well.

So this’ll hopefully move forward again, but it’ll be sporadic for the near future. ugh. I’d like this done. And in April, Google is revamping some of its site evaluations so sites need to be mobile friendly or they’ll be kicked down the list in search results — and the old site breaks all of them. One reason I was hoping I’d be further along here than I am.

You’re welcome to wander by and look around and send me feedback if you’d like.




Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading in public

Teal Sunglasses for March 23, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.


I am not taking joy in pointing this out. I really wanted the Sharks to prove me wrong. I’ll give them credit: they’ve tried, but their inability to beat lesser teams, to consistently play a strong 60 minutes (if hockey was a 40 minute game, this team could go deep into the playoffs) and a tendency to fall apart when they get a bad bounce or some other bad luck — and well, now it’s hard to see any way they make the playoff, barring snipers.

There are a lot of places for criticism out there, but here’s the one I keep going back to: how many more games would the Sharks have won if Patrick Marleau had simply had a typical year for the player?

A consistent 30-35 goal player stuck on 15? A consistently even or plus player plunging to -19? Now some of that minus is the overall play of the Sharks but Marleau’s a non-trivial part of that collapse. He’s been significantly invisible for much of the season. Why?

We aren’t, I’ll note, having that discussion about Joe Thornton. Happy 900th, Joe.

Patrick Marleau’s “missing” 15 goals is the difference this team being 9th in the west in goals scored and being third. If Marleau were “only” -10, the Sharks would be a plus team. There simply isn’t another player on the team who’s change in performance from their career stats so closely mimics the team’s collapse.

So, has Marleau hit that point where his skills and production are falling off a cliff? has his played all season injured in some way? Is he pouting?

I don’t know. Does Doug Wilson? And is there an answer?

Patrick, I believed in you. What the hell happened? And how do you explain how it didn’t happen to Joe, too?



Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

The future of blogging is… blogging.

About a month ago (that’s forever in internet years) Marco posted the note Google and blogs: “Shit.” where the general thought was that his blog traffic was flat and starting to decline over the last year or so. There are a lot of reasons for this and Marco does a good job starting to explain it, but you can also point to the death of Google Reader as a big factor.

At the time this got posted I got into a conversation with Glenn Fleishman about all of this and noted that while my readership levels have to a good degree stagnated, I’ve also seen a significant improvement in engaged readership and more importantly (well, to me), a huge improvement in incoming revenue. Glenn encouraged me to write about what I’ve been doing which, of course, I never found time to do (sorry!).

Now Glenn’s posted a bit of a follow-on to all of this over on Six Colors (my favorite of the “post Macworld era” sites that sprung up after that Diaspora, although iMore comes close) talking about the Post Blog Era and how newsletters and podcasts are going to take over the blog space.

I think Glenn is partially correct, but partially mixing up a few things, so I think now is a good time to explain my view and hopefully clarify and not muddle the situation. I don’t think blogs are dying — I’m not even convinced they’ve hit “peak blog” as Glenn has called it, but I do believe we’re seeing some significant shifts in the expectations of readers and those of us who create content need to understand and adapt to those.

Over the last year — almost 18 months — I have been revamping my web presence to update it to my view of web sites like this should look and operate. In that time, my overall pageviews have dropped by about 10%, but my Amazon affiliate advertising, which is the only revenue generating aspect of the site, has gone from about $2/month to averaging almost $110/month. That means it’s now paying my hosting bills for my sites, which is a huge improvement for me. That number is consistent even if I get busy and can’t post new material reliably.

This is one of those places where I think Marco and Glenn are seeing the shift slightly sideways. it’s not that blogging has his “peak blog” and is fading, it’s that the era of the high-volume high-churn dated diary style of blogging has. What’s happened instead is that we’ve been seeing this big upsurge of interest in long-form content again — just look at Medium and what it’s accomplishing and trying to accomplish as one example.

This isn’t the point of “peak blog”, it’s the return of well-written and detailed (and/or thoughtful) content being favored over churn bait. About 80% of my page views on a given day are driven by organic search, and 99% of those are from Google. Organic search isn’t dead, but it’s been tweaked to give preference to (I think) longer pieces and to pieces that are better received by the readers — my guess is a factor they’re considering more strongly is how long someone is spending viewing a page. 10,000 pageviews where the average length of stay is 15 seconds (the “digg” model) used to be what people were chasing. Today, I think what the search engines are looking for is material where the readers are staying longer and clicking through off the pages.

This experimentation led to three big insights I’ve been using to guide my reworking of my sites:

The first big insight: Long Content wins

My most popular page on my sites is my Fuji page. It started out as about ten separate blog posts, which quickly got out of sync with reality. One insight I took when analyzing how users were viewing things was that multi-part series and links to updates in the blog failed miserably: people rarely if ever followed the links. They showed up, they looked at what was there and they rang off. Various experiments to try to encourage them to stay and browse or to explore related content mostly failed miserably.

In evaluating analytics on my site, I noticed that one specific piece that I’d long back rewritten as a single longer page (vs a series of dated blog posts) was being fondly thought of by Google and had significantly longer average reading time. That led to my first big insight: If I couldn’t convince people to explore around the site, STOP TRYING.

So I did. I use the blog to create content and make it easy for interested people to see new content and keep up with what I’m doing as a journal-style commentary, but the reality is that a blog entry sees 90% of its views in the first ten days and then it sinks into oblivion. even if one part of a multi-part series catches longer-term interest, it doesn’t drive much to the rest of the series. So the simple answer is: pull it all together onto a single page, polish that page, keep that page updated over time, and make it easy for people (and search engines) to find that content.

So when I updated my site, I threw out a lot of crap content generated in the “you must update daily or you’ll be forgotten” era, dropping the site from > 1,100 entries to under 400. Over a couple of months I took the best of the content and compiled it into a few key topic pages, rewrote the material so it worked together well, updated it as needed, and then deleted all of the original blog entries and added redirects to the new topic page.

The end result? Where any one of ten blog pages (all of them cross-linked to each other as part of a multi-piece series) might have seen a few hits, and if I was lucky 5% of the viewers would check out one extra page and be gone in under a minute, these new pages have staying power: the average time spent on these pages is over six minutes and the longest average visit is over ten. Ten minutes. One page. I have found that visitors to these pages, after having spent six or seven minutes on this page, are a lot more likely to do some poking around the site — front page, about page.

I think this is one reason why sites like Daring Fireball work as well as they do. They aren’t trying to churn you into visiting constantly, but when they do post content, it tends to be content that you settle into and read. It has depth and complexity to it, and it’s not there to simply try to get your eyeballs around some piece of advertising that pays mili-pennies per view or click.  And that was my second insight…

The Second Big Insight: Users are blind to advertising.

I’ve had this long-term, experiment I’ve been playing with I call For Your Consideration. Back in the 1980’s I published a science fiction fanzine called OtherRealms which was, at its core, a review-zine. I also spent some time as Amazing Stories SF/Fantasy book reviewer back in the days when TSR owned the magazine. Reviewing is a writing form I enjoy, and I’ve been exploring ways to make it worth my time to do more of it, or even turn it into a revenue stream — with mostly negative results.

One of the things I did as part of those experimentation was throw out the standard Amazon Affiliate widgets  — because they are frankly butt-ugly — and instead tried building some affiliate advertising blocks that were designed to look good within the design of the site. In other words, part of the content rather than grafted on generic widgets.

Much to my surprise, the clickthrough rate of my customized affiliate blocks skyrocketed, and so did buying through them. That’s when I realized that people quickly tune out the bits of a web site that scream ADVERTISING even if that advertising is relevant to them. So much of the web today is festooned with increasingly invasive, obnoxious, irrelevant and bluntly ugly advertising that most users simply stop seeing it. They’ve become conditioned to ignore it.

I tried a couple of tests. I took a couple of my long-form pages and put Amazon ads on it. I took a couple of others and put the affiliate blocks with my custom design on them. In one case I put the custom blocks with affiliate items that weren’t related to the content of the page.

The results were clear: the standard Amazon widgets did very poorly. The custom blocks with non-related items did somewhat better but not great. And the custom blocks with items directly related to the content saw very strong responses. The custom blocks don’t hide that they’re amazon affiliate links, I try to keep the disclosure open, and of course, once you get to Amazon the situation is obvious.

But the result to me was crystal clear: people’s web experience has been so abused by aggressive advertising that they’ve been conditioned to avoid it, even if the material is relevant and of interest to them. I call it being “snow blind” to the advertising. So if you want a good response, you have to keep it low-key, you have to keep it relevant, and you have to make it part of the content itself — without hiding it’s relationship to what it is, which is affiliate advertising.

From what I’ve seen, if you do that, people are cool with it and will follow the links and some percentage of them will use them. But even something as relatively un-intrusive (if butt ugly) as an Amazon widget box is enough to keep people from clicking over and using the affiliate link.

Insight the third: Social is a conversation, not a push channel

So, when Google killed off Google Reader, I figured that a lot of people following my site via RSS would disappear. I believe that in fact happened, and I probably lost about 50%. The other 50% seem to still be hiding out on my RSS feed using other tools, whether personal readers, sites like NewBlur, or whatever. I don’t do RSS analytics so I’m guessing, but I can interpret things via indirect means like watching image views on posted material, etc.

I felt a lot of the subscription population would replace RSS with social, especially Twitter, and so I decided to try to do it as well so I could understand whether and how well it worked. In fact, I was able to shift about 95% of my feed following to twitter just fine, with small outposts of material that showed up primarily on Facebook or Tumblr or Google+. I do use Newsblur for a few feeds today for convenience, but I’m primarily following people by their social presence.

I’ve done some experimentation with what works best for my sites, and I’ve found a couple of interesting insights. One is that it doesn’t really matter WHEN I publish a blog post, where in the RSS days things posted early in the day and on weekdays did a lot better than late afternoon or evening or on weekends. What does matter though, is that the social stream notices of content need to be there when a person goes looking for them. Generally not a problem on Google+ or Facebook or Linkedin (to a degree) because those sites seem to do a decent job of flowing new material to users (except when it  doesn’t, and Facebook is notoriiously unreliable about being reliable about what it does, so you never know when it’ll bury thing you send or expect to see). Twitter, it turns out, has a half-life for a tweet around 4-6 hours, so if I post a link to a new blog items in the morning and you show up three timezones over in the afternoon, chances are you’ll never see it.

So with Twitter, I now use Hootsuite to schedule in repeating posts on new content; typically 4-5 times 4-6 hours apart so there’s about 30 hours of coverage. I’ll typically make sure material posted on a weekend gets some coverage on monday as well. While I typically post things early in the morning (pacific time) and then manually schedule in the extra tweets (because I’m too lazy to build a script to do it yet), it’s often the third tweet, which I normally schedule early afternoon pacific and early early eastern time that sees the biggest response.

I think it’s crucial that you don’t be too automated on social channels, especially on twitter. I know too many people who have little tolerance for what is clearly robots blaring out loudspeakers onto twitter. I try to make sure that when I do multiple tweets they’re far enough apart to not overlap in a typical user’s feed but instead try to cover the range of geographic time zone regions my readers live in: Pacific time, Eastern time, EMEA, and Asia/Australia.

That coverage seems to work best, and I get almost zero complaints. when I experimented with more frequent postings, I got noodged, so I backed off again. If I went less frequently, overall readership dropped off, so this seems to be optimal for making sure people see what I’m doing without pissing them off by blatting stuff at them too often. So that’s what I do.

What’s all this mean?

Here’s my view of life in the content world today:

  1. Stop worrying about pageviews. it’s a stupid stat. Worry about engagement. I’m a lot more interested in average time on a page and whether they click to other pages (or affiliate links) than I am how many people hit a page.
  2. Long content rocks. Use the journalistic aspect of a blog to generate the content over time, but make sure you pull it all together into fewer, longer, well-written topic specific pages over time. If you can do that IN the blog, okay. but I think the model of “short blog posts” -> “longer rewritten blog page” -> “ebook of pages” is the model most of us should be thinking about (and yes, ebooks is the next phase of life for that content, whether given away as part of other promotions or moved to Kindle/iBook or some form of paid published content. if nothing else, thinking like this will help you focus on writing quality content and away from the kind of “blog filler” crap that wastes time and generates no real value…
  3. Users are blind to advertising. So stop wasting time and page real estate on advertising that pisses off your users and doesn’t really work well anyway. If your business model is dependent on that, start building a new business model, because payback rates for that stuff is only going to get worse.
  4. But users aren’t against low-key stuff like affiliate advertising, if it’s done well, compatible with the site and relevant to the content their viewing.
  5. Make it easy for people to find other stuff; most won’t, but some will, and you want to encourage them to like you. You don’t need hundreds of pages of stuff — pick out your ten best pieces, polish the hell out of them and focus your visitors on them. Then try to make the rest of your content that good and interesting.
  6. You really are better off with a dozen really good pages than a hundred mediocre ones. Focus on good, not lots. That is the exact opposite of what people have been telling bloggers for years, but the most valuable content on your site is the content that’s valued by organic search, and that content is the longer, more detailed and thoughtfully written pieces, not the chatter.

The funny thing is, that’s pretty much what Google’s been telling us all along. Good content wins, but you aren’t going to generate good content at 400 word chunks daily — unless you pull it all together and build it into a few longer, better pages.

Where I’m headed

I’ve been in an experimentation/study and redesign phase on and off for about 18 months. For the last couple I’ve been implementing some plans that came out of it, and part of that was to split the photography content off to its own site, and now I’m mired in a redesign of this site — delayed because I’ve been working on “my real job” projects instead.

But the goal is to implement the above. I made the decision to split out the photography content onto its own site for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s now mature enough with enough of an audience to stand alone
  2. It lets me add on new photography-related projects on the side more easily.
  3. It frees me to  open up this site to explore new content areas again, giving me potentially new content areas I can build out the way I did the photography stuff.

I’m in process of doing the edit down and focus on this site the way I did the photography. It’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s going to involve more of the review material, more tech industry talk, and a return to my sports writing on a more regular basis. I have no idea which, if any, may build into a big enough area to warrant it’s own site, but we’ll see what happens.

Over on the photography side, I’m working on a podcast to reboot the Before and After series I was doing for a while, and there will be a Patreon aspect to that (if for no other reason than it’s time to start experimenting with that model). More on this soon, part of my time when I went and hid in Fort Bragg was giving myself some focus time to do some planning on this project.

And I agree with Glenn that both Podcasts and Newsletters have a key role to play in content distribution moving forward, but I see this less about replacing blogs as about bringing forward content into the way people are starting to consume it. Text will continue to be a prominent piece of that equation, but Podcasts are content for times when text is inconvenient or impossible, especially commute and exercise time. And video (i.e. Youtube and/or Vimeo and/or etc) is increasingly about casual research and browsing — tablet couch time — and isn’t so much about replacing text as about making it possible to cover material for which text is a lousy way to deal with it. Such as my before and after series, where I found doing it as text mostly failed, but where I think a video component backed up by a textual part will make it a persuasive and interesting series.

Online video is both content sensitive (some things just need video to be interesting) and generational (younger people are conditioned to find it on Youtube and expect it to be in video form). This and audio podcasting such as what Jason and Relay.FM are doing don’t replace blogging so much as open up areas that are increasingly important to users given the technology they have and who are looking for content to fill those times in that form.

Ultimately, it’ll all work together and if done well, leverage each other.

At least, that’s my hope.. And where I’m headed…



Posted in Computers and Technology, The Internet, The Writing Life, Working on Web Sites