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Planning to escape…

EscapingAnxiety

Used to be on a card above my desk as a reminder which was too often ignored, until I finally sat down and started to replace old, bad habits with good new ones.

The trick is to know that the good new habits aren’t an end in themselves, and to be OK with the continual journey.

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Pioneering sites closed on day of Apple event

I saw a tweet suggesting that Monday would probably be a good day to bury bad news in the tech world, as most of the world’s press and coverage would be devoted to Apple, the Apple Watch and the new MacBook.

Turns out that two pioneering internet services did indeed share some bad news. The first is that Friendfeed is closing, a little over five years after it was acquired by Facebook. The small and declining size of the community is given as the reason, which makes sense as since joining Facebook in 2009, Friendfeed has been maintained, but no more.

It’s a shame to lose an alternative social network which certainly had some traction back when it launched in October 2007 – the fact that it quickly and easily aggregated content published on a huge variety of other sites made it an interesting microblogging alternative to Twitter. And whenever the latter service went down, a flood of users would jump on it as a backup.

FriendFeedLogo

There’s no word about any data export, and given that it’s shutting on April 9th, and the relatively small user community that’s left… The official blog announcement is here, and Google’s Louis Gray has a nice post on the closure.

In the comment on his blog, Claudio Cicali has linked to code on Github to export from Friendfeed – I haven’t used it so can’t vouch for it, but other commenters seem to be having success. It’s at https://github.com/claudioc/ffexp.

Then at the same time:

GigaOm Logo

One of the first Tech blogs I read, subscribed to via RSS and followed regularly has closed the doors for the time being. It was announced with a brief update on GigaOm, a brief statement by founder and now VC Om Malik, and coverage on a variety of competing tech blogs, such as The Verge.

While Friendfeed launched in 2007, it was back in the summer of 2006 that Om Malik left his job to work on GigaOm full time and grew rapidly. In 2012 it also acquired paidContent and merged it into the site – reporting an audience of around 5.5 million users per month at the time. It launched events, and notably a paid research arm. And maintained a number of great writers, including the widely read Mathew Ingram.

Now GigaOm might not be gone for good. The assets are now controlled by the company’s lenders, and had raised $8 million in new funding just one year ago, with a figure of around 70 employees at the time. Whatever happens, it’s a sad day for tech media, as one of the biggest hasn’t been able to continue to make it work.

‘All operations have ceased. We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets. The company does not currently intend to file bankruptcy’

 

 

 

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Support your local independent blog?

The result of eCommerce on the High Street has been that you either find cool little independent shops which offer something you can’t easily replicate online, or massive chains which provide goods you need right now. The main effect of disruption has been for people stuck in the middle like Woolworths and HMV.

And small, local shops have probably never been more celebrated. There are days to officially support them, awards for the best of them, campaigns to promote them, and ways for them to come together.

Doughnuts - CC Licence, Leon Ephraim www.yummygum.com

Doughnuts – CC License, Leon Ephraim www.yummygum.com

I’ve never owned a shop, so it’s been a reasonably good thing for me. I like small businesses that do something interesting, I like the fact I can find almost anything online, and when I need to go to a large shopping centre or supermarket, there’s one somewhere nearby.

But I wonder what will happen if the internet goes the same way. Will there be any outcry of support for small websites and blogs?

In almost every niche there’s an example of ‘big chain’ publishing. The large publishers of the past have managed to somehow survive and adapt somewhat successfully to the digital world, even if it’s been with reluctance.

And there are the big content shopping centres of the internet; Facebook, which is so ubiquitous people around the world don’t even associate it with being part of the internet. Yahoo!, still. And Medium.

In many ways I like Medium.

It looks nice. It launched with a focus on writing, and particularly long-form writing. There’s the secret paid support for some writers and public offers for some others. You don’t have endless advertising, or fifty thousand recommended articles from Outbrain, Taboola, or Zerg etc. And there are countless fantastic articles on subjects I’ve never even considered reading about, alongside the things which I know would interest me.

But in some ways I hate it.

It’s no longer about just long-form. You now have a stream which mixes longer and much shorter pieces. And the idea is that it provides the best one-stop place for all content, just as Facebook began with connections, Youtube for video, and Google for search.

It feels more and more like the Bluewater Shopping Centre of online publishing. Nice design, good amenities, and an easy place to spend more time and money than you intended. But also slightly soulless and constricting.

And every day we read about another death of blogging, as someone with a fairly well-known name decides to give it a rest for a while.

In print publishing there has always been the odd breakout hit in an industry dominated by those who could afford the staff, the presses and the distribution. And the same will be true of digital publishing in the future. But sadly I doubt we’ll see the same types of support for the small-to-medium websites and blogs which let you feel like you were entering a local cafe, pub or someone’s living room to listen to what they had to share and discuss it with them.

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Technology underpins and connects everything

Judging by the amount of social media shares, plenty of people were wondered ‘How Floyd Mayweather and Justin Bieber bonded over an app‘. TL:DR – they’re both investors in an app called Shots.

Celebrities from Ashton Kutcher to Will.i.am has invested in tech companies or developed tech products. It seems like years since Alica Keyes was signed up by BlackBerry as their Global Creative Director, which ended in January 2014 after just 12 months.

It’s no longer worth remarking on journalists leaving esteemed publications to become bloggers. Or the massive prices paid for startups which may not have produced significant profits.

Whatever the questions being asked, it seems like the answer is simple – technology.

Bridge Cables Photo by Vita Vilcina http://www.vivivi.co.uk/ (CC Licence)

Photo by Vita Vilcina http://www.vivivi.co.uk/ (CC Licence)

The population of the UK is mostly connected via PCs, tablets and smartphones, and the majority of people are connected via social networks, apps and casual games. It’s increasingly rare to find anyone not on Facebook or Clash of Clans – or to find a child who isn’t familiar with Minecraft or Youtube.

The mainstream media now carries news about the latest technology and can see big enough audiences to schedule full programmes on topics like 3D printing and artificial intelligence.

  • In some ways that’s amazingly great – I’ve loved technology as long as I can remember.
  • But in some ways it’s worrying – when all you have is technology, every problem looks like an application.

For all the transformational power of the internet, we’re still governed by politicians who we can’t trust, and a small group of mega-corporations who can’t effectively be controlled.

We’ve yet to see print publications finally become marginalised. Most big media companies have now had time to adapt and evolve rather than become extinct. And the biggest contributors to open source projects like Linux now come from developers employed by large corporations.

Meanwhile we still have war, famine and greater financial inequality than ever. Statistically we’re safer in the developed Western world than ever in human history, but we’re bombarded with reports of potential threats to us in greater volumes than could have been imagined.

The myth that ‘anyone can be a success’ has spread from America to envelope the whole internet, despite the fact that only a percentage of businesses will ever be successful until enough virtual currencies and bots are developed to create infinite consumption.

Meanwhile we seem to have many of the same problems which have faced society for hundreds of years, and as Gamergate has shown so well, we’ve made little progress. Because rather than asking questions about politics, society and business which mean challenging assumptions and investing huge amounts of time and resource into making a significant change, it’s easier to announce a new software platform or app. And most of us (me included) are too busy trying to scrape a living in between liking updates and checking into games to do more than sign the occasional e-petition.

 

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Why I envy designers and developers

It’s relatively common to find people who will happily admit they’re not technical, or can’t code.

It’s reasonably common to find people who will admit they can’t draw or design, even if they still have a habit of making ‘helpful’ suggestions.

It’s not very common to find people who are aware that they can’t string a decent sentence together. It’s somewhat understandable when all our days are increasingly filled with texts, emails, and social media updates. And that’s even if you don’t have a job which requires written work.

Workbench by alicjacolon.com/

Workbench by alicjacolon.com/ (CC Licence)

All of the work I do for my business is around content and communication. Whether it’s client explanations and updates, consumer-facing writing and media, or improving the meta data and information structure for SEO and increasing conversions.

I’ve been employed full-time as a writer, formally studied literature and journalism, and taught writing, journalism and marketing (including on behalf of organisations including the Press Association). Out of the top handful of magazine publishers in the country, I’ve worked for, freelanced or trained at almost all of them.

And I then spend my spare time attempting to bootstrap a digital publishing company, which started literally with nothing. For a long time, I was the sole writer, editor, sales and admin person for any website I worked on.

So hopefully by now, I can string a reasonable sentence together. Although I still get nervous every time I start to write, and a compliment for work I’ve produced can put me on a high for days.

Which begs the question why it can be so difficult to explain the situation to someone who needs great writing and content to promote themselves, or their business. And why they often find it hard to accept that they might not be doing the best possible job – especially when they want to dump it all on the cheapest intern or member of staff they can find.

Those are the times when I really wish I was a proficient coder. Or welder. Possibly an electrician like my father.

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Couldn’t use Flickr, even if I wanted to…

Despite my sadness at the stagnation of Flickr, I still use it regularly to upload, share and store images. Or at least I used to.

I can still upload everything perfectly from my mobile, but whenever I try and sign in to my account on my laptop, I’m asked for a confirmation code, which is emailed to my Gmail account.

YahooConfirmIdentityCode

Only the code never arrives. I’ve checked my Inbox, Spam Folder, All Mail and Trash. I’ve run out of retries, and I can’t sign into Yahoo Mail either, so I’ve completely stuck.

I know it’s the right address because I still have emails informing me that my subscription to Flickr Pro has expired, for example. And the email asking me to confirm my new email address back in 2009.

I’ve checked Settings and Filters, and there’s nothing there to hid or block the email.

So there are two options:

1. Gmail is mysteriously blocking some emails – I’ve had this happen to another Gmail address earlier this week when repeated invites to a Slack team didn’t show up. But this was an account with a domain alias, so I’m not ruling out user error. Whereas Yahoo have an email address for me with no aliases etc to confuse things.

2. Yahoo is not sending emails – I don’t know how likely this is, but why is there no possible way to access my account/verification code besides the one email address, and no easy way to contact support? If they knew they were going to be increasing Yahoo ID security, why not prompt existing users to add their mobile number beforehand, for example?

It’s just generally crap, and has made me keener than ever to invest in a new external hard drive for photos, and to sign up to 500px as a paying user for a service which might actually work.

It definitely doesn’t give me any faith in future Yahoo products.

(Disclosure: I know 1 or 2 people who work at Yahoo on the Editorial side of things. I haven’t asked if they’ve hidden my security code behind the sofa)

 

 

*edit* It was only as I pressed publish my brain finally made the connection that both Flickr and Slack were co-founded by the same person – Stewart Butterfield. Strange coincidence….

 

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Xbox Marketing Fail…

My son recently received an Xbox 360 for Christmas. So as ‘gamer dad’, it was my job to go through the process of setting him up on Xbox Live, including making sure he was on a restricted profile. Even after owning an Xbox 360 since around launch, it was a bit of a faff, including the fact I’d restricted it so much that he couldn’t actually join in games with me. Which was kind of the point…

The main thing was to make sure he wasn’t seeing age-restricted content. As much as I believe in parental oversight, I’m still in trouble over the time I discovered he was able to use the Xbox navigation at the age of 3. Mainly because I left the room for a minute and by the time I came back, he’d given himself nightmares by managing to open up a game based around killing zombies.

So having used one of my email addresses for his new Xbox Live profile, I was a bit surprised to see this proudly displayed as the top recommendation.

XboxBattlefieldHardlineMarketingFail

Personally I’m quite keen on the look of Battlefield Hardline. But my son is going to have to wait around a decade before he’s a suitable age for it.

I’d be the first to admit that possibly in adjusting the profile settings to enable him to actually play games over the internet with his own father, I might have made a mistake somewhere. But I’d certainly locked everything down to the best of my abilities. And if I can’t work an Xbox 360 reasonably competently by now, I’d say there was a distinct usability problem with the system settings area – I’ve not only signed up for EULAs etc, but had a hand in writing a few.

In any case, given even a single indication that it’s an age-restricted profile, surely the default should be to play it safe, rather than risk yet another Netmums outcry over violence in videogames?

I’m already approaching the time when my son is a better gamer than I am. The longer I can keep him away from adult games and retain some kind of mystique, the better…

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Improving my computer habits

I’ve blogged about some inspiration to keep improving what I do, and it’s something I’m trying to put into practice by improving my computer habits as well as in the rest of my life.

For example:

I’ve stopped hoarding 3rd party videos and cleared GBs of space. The amount I’d squirreled away to update my videogames sites ( OnlineRaceDriver.com, FPSPrestige.com and HotModGaming.com) was getting ridiculous, and I’d run out of storage space so my main hard drive was filling up. Now the mantra is get it uploaded, get it published, or delete it.

I’ve also started becoming more strict about email. It’s easy to let the almost infinite space in Gmail seduce me into keeping every email ‘just in case it comes in handy’, but while the space in my email account my be almost limitless, my time and attention isn’t.

No more hoarding stuff in browser bookmarks either. I’ve got hundreds of bookmarks which are just sat there, with no tags or easy way to find anything that’s actually useful. While I’ll keep using it as a quick scratchpad as needed, I have both Diigo and Delicious for actual storage. And cross posting from Diigo means I have a backup if anything should happen.

Computer Desk by Tatiana Lapina

My desk is nowhere near as tidy or photogenic!
Computer Desk by Tatiana Lapina (CC Licence).

And I’m once again looking at the collection of websites I’ve built up over the years, and deciding what’s important to keep going, what has the possibility to grow, and how to best manage the relationships between each of them and social media.

Part of that has been to try and organise myself and other collaborators in Slack, which has the benefit of cutting down on emails as well.

Sadly I still haven’t found an answer for my natural tendency to get lost in brilliant articles on random topics around the internet, but I am trying to limit it more to weekend reading as my digital equivalent of a Sunday paper.

I’d love to hear more suggestions for improving productivity, and better organisation, that people have actually used and found beneficial, rather than trawling through countless lifehacker posts….

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Some inspiration for the mid-30s and late bloomers

I’ve been clearing out old bookmarks from my browser as part of an attempt to improve my IT habits (More on that tomorrow), and stumbled across an article I saved back in 2012.

It’s by Dave McClure, who founded the 500 Startups seed accelerator and investment fund and has become a pretty well known and respected VC.

Reading it again, it’s not surprising I saved it. I experienced a similar trajectory, where I seemed to be fairly smart and destined to do well until a lack of motivation and hard work combined with distractions meant that I ended up with qualifications below what I could have achieved.

I was lucky to achieve a dream job with Bauer Media (then Emap) working on the world’s biggest motorcycle website, and followed that up with roles introducing social media across the business, and a move to follow another passion of mine, music, at Absolute Radio.

Forest Pic by Dustin Scarpitti, used under Creative Commons license.

Forest Pic by Dustin Scarpitti, used under Creative Commons license.

But as I get closer to 40, I can identify with the idea that you can still feel like an unfocused underachiever, especially when the media is full of the teen and 20-something bright young things creating multi-million startups, apps and Youtube channels.

It’s a strange feeling considering I’ve managed to build a business by bootstrapping it from nothing to survive 4 years, including some tough economic times, and work with some great, and sometimes massive companies. And at the same time, the websites I’ve started reach hundreds of thousands of people each year.

I suspect I’m not the only person who’ll identify with ‘late bloomer, not a lose.(I hope)‘.

It’s something to remember, along with the belief that you don’t have to end every day with a massive success – just do a bit better every day and suck a little less and things will happen. At the same time, I also saved this post by James Altucher on simple things to do every day to be luckier. Exercise, Prioritise, Mental exercise, Meditation. Time to make sure I improve on each one every day…

 

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Linked consequences…

Really interesting article on Reuters explains that the rise of Amazon and other eCommerce startups has led to a commercial property boom as everyone needs more space for workers and storage – despite being a really small percentage of Indian retail at the moment.

It also has a stunningly bad, possibly machine generated, picture caption…