Doing 2016 Write

 

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It’s the first day of 2016 and it’s time for me to look at what I wanted to do and what I plan to accomplish in the coming 366 days. We’ve got a busy year ahead with a leap day, the Olympics, and a US presidential election. And somewhere in the middle of all that there’s a lot of exciting things related to tech.

2015 In Rewind

Looking back at my 2015 goals, I think I did a fairly good job:

  • Writing in Markdown – Read about it all here
  • Blog themes – I really did look at quite a few themes and tried to find something that worked the way I wanted it to work without major modifications. What I finally settled on was a minor font change to make things more readable. For me, form has never been more important than function, so I spend less time worrying about how my blog looks and much more time focusing on how it reads.
  • Cisco Live Management – Didn’t quite get this one done. I wanted to put up the poll for the big picture at the end and I managed to miss it this year! The crew got a chance to say hello to keynote speaker Mike Rowe, so I think it was a good tradeoff. This year for Cisco Live 2016, I hope we have some more interesting things in store as well as some surprises.

A hit, a miss, and a foul tip. Not terribly bad. 2015 was a busy year. I think I wrote more words than ever. I spoke a few times at industry events. I enjoyed participating in the community and being a part of all the wonderful things going on to move forward.

Looking Ahead to 2016

2016 is going to be another busy year as well. Lots of conferences in Las Vegas this year (Aruba Atmosphere, Interop, Cisco Live, and VMworld) as well as other industry events and a full slate of Tech Field Day events. I don’t think there’s a month in the entire year where something isn’t going on.

I’m sure this is an issue for quite a few people in the community as well. There’s a lot of time that gets taken up by doing things. The leaves very little time for writing about those things. I’ve experienced it and I know a lot of my friends have felt the same way. I can’t tell yo the number of times that I’ve heard “I need to write something about that.” or “I’m way behind on my blogging!”

Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Write

My biggest goal for 2016 is writing. I’ve been doing as much as I can, but I want to help others do it as well. I want to find a way to encourage people to start writing and add their thoughts to the community. I also want to find a way to keep the other great voices of the community going and writing regularly.

There’s been a huge shift recently away from blogging as a primary method of information transfer. Quite a few have moved toward non-writing methods to convey that information. Podcasts, both audio and video, are starting to become a preferred method of disseminating information.

I don’t have a problem with podcasts. Some of my friends have great resources that you should check out. But podcasts are very linear. Aside from using software that speeds up the talking, it’s very hard to condense podcasts into quick hit formats. Blog posts can be as short or long as they need to be to get the information across.

What I want to accomplish is a way to foster writers to write more. To help new writers get started and established writers to keep contributing. But keeping the blogging format alive and growing, we can continue to contribute great thoughts to the community and transfer knowledge to a new group of up-and-coming IT professionals.

I’ve got some ideas along these lines that I’ll be rolling out in the coming months. Be sure to say tuned. If you’re willing to help out in any way please drop me a line and let me know. I’m always looking for great people in the community to help make others great as well.


Tom’s Take

A new year doesn’t always mean a totally fresh start. I’ve been working on 2016 things for a few weeks now and I’m continuing great projects that I’ve been doing for a while now as well. But a new year does mean that it is time to find ways to do things better. My mission for the year is to make people better writers. To encourage more people to put thoughts down on paper. I want a world full of thinkers that aren’t afraid to share. That’s something that could make the new year a great one indeed.

My Markdown Adventure

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It was almost a year ago that I set forth the idea to start writing all my blog posts in Markdown. I’ve been doing my best to keep up with that throughout the year and now I’m fifty Markdown posts into my goal. How is it working out so far?

Markdown Mindset

Learning to write in Markdown took some adjustment. Before, I had just used the web editor or the occasional HTML editing suite to write my posts. Most of the HTML was hidden. With Markdown, you have to think about what you’re going to do before you start writing it. Where are the links going to appear? How is your post going to be organized? Putting a bit more thought into your post gives you more structure to your thoughts. That’s something that’s helped my writing a bit.

The table layout for the 2015 Cisco Live Twitter List really wasn’t all that difficult either. Once I put the initial code together, it was just a simple copy/paste job after that. I’m toying with the idea of putting all my notes into Markdown as well. But given how terrible I am with taking typed notes that may not happen.

Editing In Style

I’ve also gone back and forth with editors for my particular style of Markdown writing. I started off with Lightpaper, which was a nice way to ease into writing. It was easy enough to figure out, but I didn’t like the lag in the preview pane and the tendency of that pane to lose position and scroll back in my writing. Add in the fact that Lightpaper was free during beta and is now a paid app and I can’t see myself recommending it now.

Most of my writing this year was in Mou. Mou is a lot like a traditional text editor. It’s powerful and extensible. I found it suited a lot of my Markdown needs. The preview pane worked like I thought it should and the theming allowed me to customize things to meet my writing needs. Mou did the lion’s share of the work during the year for me. But as I started to explore the gamut of distraction free Markdown writing apps, I felt that Mou was a little rough around the edges. The author has done a great job of keeping up with things so far, but the Indegogo campaign to produce a 1.0 version hasn’t really come to fruition yet. And 1.0 will be a paid release. So take a look at Mou, and if it meets your needs you should definitely get it now and take a look to decide if you want to pay for it later.

The editor that I’ve settled on to in the past couple of weeks is Typora. I like the way that the preview pane is in-line instead of separately. I realized as I wrote more with Markdown editors that seeing the actual code was much less important that the finished result. Moving to a in-line style was much cleaner. Add in support for different fonts in the editor and I got much closer to my actual blog posting style as opposed to plain text. Typora just looks cleaner and nicer. Like a modern word processing app compared to a text editor. If you don’t need the polish and feature set, the text editor works just fine. Typora is free during beta and will be a paid app when it comes out. Try it now and see if it suits your writing tastes before you have to pay.


Tom’s Take

Markdown has helped my writing. I’m faster and better now that I was at this time last year. I like the way things look when I write. My thoughts are more coherent. Markdown has improved my writing so much I use it for all my posts. It takes some acclimation over the course of a few weeks. I found myself going back into the web editor on accident more than once before scolding my muscle memory and going back to my Markdown experiment.

Part of that is finding the right editor. Don’t just take my word for it. Try out some of the distraction-free options or the text editor style programs as well. There are a ton of options out there for you to try. Just download one and start writing. I think you’ll find that Markdown will give you a lot of power in your writing and you’ll be a happier person for it!

 

Share And Share Alike

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Every once in a while, I like to see who is clicking through to my blog. It helps me figure out what’s important to write about and who reads things. I found a recent comment that made me think about what I’m doing from a different perspective.

The Con Game

I get occasional inbound traffic from Reddit. The comments on Reddit are a huge reason to follow threads on the site. In one particular thread on /r/networking linked back to my blog as a source of networking news and discussion. But a comment gave me pause:

https://www.reddit.com/r/networking/comments/3mpjpz/networking_websites/cvgyfye

And I quote:

Cons : they almost all know each other and tend to promote each other content.

This was a bit fascinating to me. Of the people in that particular comment, I’ve only ever met one in person. I do know quite a few people in the networking space as part of my career, both related to Tech Field Day and just through writing.

It is true that I share quite a bit of content from other writers. My day job notwithstanding, I feel it is my duty to identify great pieces of writing or thought-provoking ideas and share it with the rest of the community. Ideas don’t live unless they can be shared. Without calling attention to important things and giving them a wider audience, we can’t hope to affect change and increase knowledge and learning.

People that write in a vacuum never become better writers. They never learn to express their ideas and defend them from questions and criticism. It’s not only important to share ideas with those that would agree with them, but also to share them with people that would disagree. Learning how to defend your thoughts and understand different viewpoints is a crucial step to becoming a better writer.

Pro Tips

If you’re a writer or blogger or speaker that follows other people, make sure to share what they write with your audience. Even if the two groups are 95% similar, there’s still that 5% that doesn’t overlap. Make sure you share their ideas with an extra thought of your own. Do you agree? Or, more importantly, do you disagree? Be cautious on that last part. You want to disagree professionally and raise objections, not tear someone down and attack the messenger. And yes, I realize that I started out that way in my career. But I’m feeling much better now.

Don’t hesitate to share something from someone you don’t know, either. I’ve made quite a few new friends by reaching out to someone writing great things and telling the world about it in my own way. People appreciate seeing their thoughts being disseminated to new audiences. Someone that sees you sharing and discussing ideas is more willing to approach you and start a dialog about new ideas as well.

And lastly, don’t let someone else tell you that sharing other people’s ideas is a bad thing. If you’re doing it for all the right reasons then it’s a great thing to want to show the community what people are doing. It’s not blatant promotion if there is substance behind what you’re sharing. If you’re shining a spotlight to enrich the knowledge base of the greater whole, then you should feel obligated to call attention to something good.


Tom’s Take

The world is a better place when we reinforce each other and do our best to make everyone better and smarter. Sometimes that comes in the form of sharing content and giving ideas. Other times it comes from helping friends by challenging what they say and assisting them in the completion of thoughts. In the end, we should feel honored to be able to take part in this great learning experiment that is the community. We can all come out winners by making everyone better than the were at the beginning.

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Objectivity Never Rests

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Being an independent part of the IT community isn’t an easy thing. There is a lot of writing involved and an even greater amount of research. For every word you commit to paper there is at least an hour of taking phone calls and interviewing leaders in the industry about topics. The rewards can be legion. So can the pitfalls. Objectivity is key, yet that is something where entire communities appear to be dividing.

Us Or Them

Communities are complex organisms with their own flow and feel. What works well in one community doesn’t work well in another. Familiarity with one concept doesn’t immediately translate to another. However, one thing that is universal across all communities is the polarization between extremes.

For instance, in the networking community this polarization is best characterized by the concept of “ABC – Anything But Cisco”. Companies make millions selling Cisco equipment every year. Writers and speakers can make a very healthy career from covering Cisco technologies. And yet there are a large number of companies and people that choose to use other options. They write about Juniper or install Brocade. They spend time researching Cumulus Linux or Big Switch Networks.

Knowing a little about many things is a great thing. There is no way I could have done my old VAR job had I only known Cisco gear. But when that specialization is taken to an extreme, you get the mentality that anything or anyone involved in the opposite camp must be wrong on principal. It does happne that some choose to ignore all other things at their own peril. Still others are branded as “haters” not because they truly hate a position but because others have taken comments and pushed them beyond their meaning to an extreme to serve as a comparison point.

Think a bit about the following situations that have been mentioned to me in recent months and look at what the perception is in certain communities:

  • Cisco vs. Not Cisco
  • Cisco vs. VMware
  • Cisco vs. Whitebox
  • VMware vs. OpenStack
  • VMware vs. Docker
  • EMC vs. Not EMC

The list could go on for many more entries. The point is that people have drawn “battle lines” in the industry around companies and concepts to provide contrast for positions.

Objectivity In Motion

How does the independent influencer cope with all these challenges to objectivity? It’s not unlike navigating a carpet full of Lego bricks with no shoes on.

The first important step is to avoid the trap of being pigeonholed as a “hater”. That’s easier than it sounds. Simply covering one technology or vendor isn’t going to cause you to fall into that trap. If someone writes a lot about Juniper, I simply assume they spend the majority of their time with Juniper gear. The only time they cross the line into the territory of anti-Someone is through calculated commentary to that effect.

The other important step in reference to the above is to keep your commentary on point. Petty comments like “that’s a stupid idea” or “no one in their right mind would do it like that” aren’t constructive and lead to labels of “hater”. The key to criticism is to keep it constructive. Why is it a stupid idea? Why would someone choose to do it differently? These are ways to provide contrast without relying on generalizing to get your point across.

The third and most important way to avoid losing objectivty is to keep the discussion focused on things and ideas and not people. As soon as you start attacking people and crticizing them your objectivity will always be called into question. For example, a few years ago I wrote a review of a short book that Greg Ferro (@EtherealMind) wrote about blogging. I disagreed with many of his points based on my own experiences. In my post, I never attacked Greg or called his blogging ability into question. Instead, I addressed his points and provided my own perspective. Greg and I have had many beers since then without wanting to choke each other, so I think we’re still friends. But more importantly, we’re still objective about blogging even though we have different opinions.


Tom’s Take

Objectivity is hard to gain and easy to lose. It’s also easy to have it taken from you by people that feel you’ve lost it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to look at my last blog post about Meraki and assume that I “hate” them based on my comments. But if you read through what I wrote, I never say that I hate the company or the people. Instead, I disagree with a choice they have made with their software. I still feel my objectivity is intact. If Meraki decides tomorrow to implement some of my ideas or something similar, I will be more than happy to tell everyone about it.

You can never stop looking at your own objectivity. When you get complacent you have lost. You need to constantly ask yourself why you are writing or speaking about something and how objective you are. If you are the first person to question your own objectivity it will be much easier to answer those that question it later.

Just. Write.

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Somewhere, someone is thinking about writing. They are confused where to start. Maybe they think they can’t write well at all? Perhaps they even think they’ll run out of things to say? Guess what?

Just. Write.

Why A Blog?

Social media has taken over as the primary form of communication for a great majority of the population. Status updates, wall posts, and picture montages are the way we tell everyone what we’re up to. But this kind of communication is fast and ephemeral. Can you recall tweets you made seven months ago? Unless you can remember a keyword, Twitter and Google do a horrible job of searching for anything past a few days old.

Blogs represent something different. They are the long form record of what we know. They expand beyond a status or point-in-time posting. Blogs can exist for months or years past their original post date. They can be indexed and shared and amplifed. Blogs are how we leave our mark on the world.

I’ve been fielding questions recently from a lot of people about how to get started in blogging. I’m a firm believer that everyone has at least one good blog post in them. One story about a network problem solved or a cautionary tale that they’ve run into and wish to save others from. Everyone knows one thing that few others do. Sharing that one thought is what sets you apart from others.

A lot of blogs start off as a collection of notes or repository of knowledge that is unique to the writer. This makes it easy to share that knowledge with others. As people find that knowledge, they want to share it with others. As they share it, you become more well known in the community. As people learn who you are, they want to share with you. That’s how a simple post can start an avalanche of opportunity to learn more and more.

How To Start

This is actually much easier than it appears. Almost everyone has a first “Starting A Blog” post. It’s a way to announce to the world that your site is more than a parking page. That post is easy to write. And it will hardly ever be read.

The next step is to tell the world your one thing. Create pictures if it helps. Craft a story. Lay out all the information. Make sure to break it up into sections. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just readable. Once you’ve gotten all the information out of your head and onto virtual paper, it’s time to tell the world about it.

Publicize your work through those social media channels. Link to your post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and anywhere else you can. The more eyeballs you get on your post, the more feedback you will get. You will also get people that share your post with others. That’s the amplication effect that helps you reach even further.

Now, Keep Going

Okay, you’ve gotten that out of your system. Guess what? You need to keep going. Momentum is a wonderful thing. Now that you’ve learned how to craft a post, you can write down more thoughts. Other stories you want to tell. Maybe you had a hard time configuring a switch or learning what a command does? Those are great posts to write and share. The key is to keep going.

You don’t need a set schedule. Some write every week to keep on track. Others write once a month to sum up things they are working on. The key is to find a schedule that works for you. Maybe you only do something interesting every two weeks? Maybe your job is so exicting that you can fill a whole week’s worth of posts?

The worst thing in the world is to have a rhythm going and then stop. Real life does get in the way more than you think. Jobs run long. Deadlines come and go. Missing a post becomes two. Two becomes three, and before you know it you haven’t posted for six months or more.

The way to fix the momentum problem is to keep writing things down. It doesn’t have to be a formal post. It can easily be bullet points in a draft. Maybe it’s a developing issue that you’re documenting? Just jot down the important things and when you’ve wrapped up all the hard work, you have all the beginnings of a great blog post. Every support case has notes that make for great blog subjects.


Tom’s Take

I still consider blogging to be one of the most important ways to share with people in our community. It’s very easy to write down tweets and status updates. It’s also very hard to find them again. Blogs are like living resumes for us. Everything we’ve done, everything we know is contained in several thousand characters of text that can be searched, indexed, and shared.

If you are sitting in a chair reading this thinking that you can’t blog, stop. Open a text editor and just start writing. Write about screwing up a VLAN config and how you learned not to do it again. Write down an interesting support case. Maybe it was a late-night migration gone wrong. Just write it down. When you finish telling your story, you’ve got the best start to blog you could possibly hope for. The key is to just write.

 

A Bright And Happy 2015 Ahead

Welcome to a new year finally divisible by five! This is a year devoid of extra February days, Olympics, or anything else. It’s a chance for us to take a look at technology and make things better and easier for users and IT staff. It’s also probably going to be called the year of VDI, NFV, and SDN. Again.

Rather than writing a wrap up post for the end of 2014 like so many other sites, I like to look at what I said I was going to do 365 days ago and see if I followed through on them. It’s a way to keep myself honest and also to see how the year transformed around me and my goals.

Looking at 2014

Thankfully, my goals for 2014 were modest. I wanted to get more involved with the people in the IT industry. And I did that in a big way. I went to a ton of conferences and events through the year. Cisco Live, VMworld, and HP Discover Barcelona were all on my list this year, as well as all of the Tech Field Day events I took part in as an organizer. It was a grand opportunity to meets lots of people in the technology space. I got to interact with the old guard and see the rise of new stars. Jobs changed. People sought out new careers. And through it all I got a real sense that the people that are going to change the world in technology are passionate about what they do.

Passion is the key to making sense out of what we do. I’m not saying that you have to be so in love with your job that you are blinded to the world. What I mean is that you need to have passion about the things that matter to you. For me, it’s about seeing new technology and exposing people to it. I love Tech Field Day. It warms my heart when people come to me during and after the event and tell me that they were able to see so much more than they imagined. When a delegate tells me they finally had a chance to meet one of their tech idols or had a game changing conversation during the limo ride between presenters I genuinely smile. Those are the kinds of moments that make everything worth it for me.

What’s In Store For 2015?

For now, the major things aren’t going to change any time soon. My Bruce Wayne job is still going to be Tech Field Day. My Batman job is going to be writing on this blog. But I’m going to try a few new things and see how they work out.

Markdown

I’ve played around with the idea of writing in Markdown for a while now. It’s a simple language that turns thoughts into HTML with out needing to remember some of the more irritating code sections. I’ve never really committed to it before, looking at it more as a hobby or a thing I would eventually get to. Well, for 2015 I’m going to commit to writing all of my posts in Markdown. There’s no better way to learn than a trial by fire. I don’t think the regular posts are going to be a big deal, but the 2015 Cisco Live Twitter List could be fun.

If you’d like to see a great reference sheet for Markdown, check out Greg Ferro’s (@EtherealMind) page on Markdown Reference.

Blog Themes

I wanted to retheme my blog for 2015. I investigated several options and ultimately abandoned all of them because I could never find the right combination. I’m picky about many things I work with every day, including my blog theme, my backpack/messenger bag, and my computer desk. Since I’m hosted on WordPress.com, I can’t just install any theme I want or make modifications to it as I would like. I’m going to keep investigating some ideas and may try them out now and then. Just don’t be surprised if things look slightly different one day in the near future.

Cisco Live Managmement

One of the ideas that I’m going to float out here six months early for Cisco Live is a poll/form for picking the best time to take the Twitter photo. Every year for the last four years we’ve taken a huge photo with all the social media crew at Cisco Live. In the past couple of years we’ve had some issues getting everyone in the picture due to scheduling. This year, Jeff Fry (@FryGuy_PA) and I want to make sure that no one is left out that wants to be in the big photo because of their schedule. I’m going to put up a poll in the next couple of months to pick the best possible time for the photo. And we’ll make sure to publish the results and work with the Cisco Live Social Media staff to get the photographer for that time.

I’m also looking at creating some other spreadsheets to keep track of other information during the event, so if you get a random email from me about it keep in mind that I’m trying to keep myself sane this year.


Tom’s Take

I’m excited for 2015. There’s going be a lot of technology to write about. Tech Field Day will be in Austin, Boston, and Silicon Valley. We’re going to be talking about wireless, networking, storage, and event Big Data! I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my friends and peers this year and meeting new and exciting people. Through it all, I’m going to be writing away here as well to put my thoughts down about trends and ideas in the industry. There may be the occasional technical piece now and then, since explanation of complex tech subjects is something I think there needs to be more of.

To my readers, thanks for helping me realize how important blogging is the community. Keep posting comments and sharing my thoughts with the world. And in 2015 we’ll have more fun that we’ve had in a long while.

Q And A Should Include The E

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The IT world is cyclical for sure. I’ve seen trends and topics repeating themselves over and over again in my relatively short time here. I find it interesting that we keep solving similar problems over and over again. I also find it fascinating that this particular issue leads to the reason why blogs are so important.

Any Questions?

Questions abound in IT. It’s the nature of the industry. However, it’s not just new questions that we create when technology leaps past us. We keep asking the same questions over and over again. This is the field of study that created the FAQ, remember?

In recent memory, I find the same questions being asked over and over again:

  • What is SDN?
  • How can SDN help me?
  • What makes this different from what we’ve done before?

You’ve probably asked those very same questions. Perhaps you found the answers you were looking for. Perhaps you’re still trying to figure it out. The problem is that those questions are still being asked. The industry should have evolved to the point where the simple questions have been answered with simple answers. Complex questions, or those questions that need more in-depth discussion, should be treated as such. Yes, the question of what SDN really is would take more than a cursory paragraph on a blog, but we should be able to at least answer it with enough specificity to make the user not feel like they been slighted.

Questions will never stop coming in IT. But how should we handle them?

Any Answers?

Questions may abound in IT, but the answers drive IT. People make a career out of being the person with the answers. It’s in all the marketing jargon. It’s why we create blogs. Even though most of my writing in the last year has been focused on industry trends or non-technical focused posts, the top three posts on my blog are still answers to simple questions:

  1. When Is A Trunk Not A Trunk?
  2. Switchport Voice VLAN – What Does It Do?
  3. Why Is My SFP Not Working?

These posts are far and away the most popular. I even saw this a few months ago and it made me smile:

This would make it seem like people are in need of answers. Any blogger can look at the incoming search terms for their blog and see all the things that brought readers to them. People want answers and they will keep looking until they find them. But why?

Explain It

I never understood why people kept searching for answers until I thought about satisfaction. I think Randall Munroe summed up the satisfaction (or lack thereof) angle here:

Who are you, DenverCoder9?!? (Thanks XKCD)
Who are you, DenverCoder9?!? (Thanks XKCD)

People can find answers easily. But they won’t stop looking until they are satisfied with the answer. It’s easy to find people saying things like “That’s not supported” or “RTFM” when you’re looking for an answer to a particularly difficult problem. And if you’ve ever called a tech support line, you know how unfulfilling the unsupported answer can feel.

That’s when explanation comes into play for me. First, an admission: I’m a chronic explainer. If you’ve ever met me and had a conversation with me for more than three minutes, you know I explain things. I talk about comic books and movies and technical topics in more depth than I should. That’s because I want things explained to me. Explaining how OSPF area calculations are done is as important as explaining how Captain America ended up wielding Mjolnir.

Think about the following answers:

This is unsupported.

or

This is unsupported on that platform because the CPU doesn’t have enough horsepower to process the packets in real time. We tried cutting down on the processing time but it just overwhelmed the unit no matter how much we tried. So rather than dealing with poor performance, we marked it as unsupported.

Both answers are technically correct. But the second is much more satisfying because the explanation is there instead of just the distilled answer.

The IT world needs more explanation. We need to know why things work the way they do instead of just getting a response of a few words. The explanation has the keys to understanding the answer to the question in its totality. It prevents us from asking the same questions over and over again. It leaves us fulfilled and ready to seek out the next question that needs to be asked.

Write Like The Wind

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At the beginning of 2013, I looked at the amount of writing I had been doing.  I had been putting out a post or two a week for the last part of 2012.  Networking Field Day usually kept me busy.  Big news stories also generated a special post after they broke.  I asked myself, “Could I write two posts a week for a whole year?”

The idea is pretty sound.  I know several people that post very frequently.  I had lots of posts backlogged that I could put up to talk about subjects I never seemed to get around to discussing.  So, with a great deal of excitement, I made my decision.  Every Monday and Thursday of 2013 would have a blog post.  In all, 105 posts for the year (counting this one).

Let me be the first to tell you…writing is hard.  It’s easy enough to come up with something every once in a while.  I personally have set a goal of writing a post a week to make sure I stay on track with my blog.  If I don’t write something once a week, then I miss a week.  Then two.  Next thing you know, six months from now I’m writing that “Wow, I haven’t updated in a while…” post.  I hate those posts.

Reaping What You Sow

Not that my life didn’t get complicated along the way.  I changed jobs.  My primary source of material, Tech Field Day, now became my job and not something I could count on for inspiration.  Then, I took on extra work.  I wrote some posts for Aruba’s Airheads Community site.  I also picked up a side job halfway through the year writing for Network Computing.  I applied my usual efficiency to that work, so I was cranking out one post a week for them as well.

My best laid plans of two posts per week ended up being three.  I wrote a lot.  Sometimes, I had everything ready to go and knew exactly what I wanted to say.  Other times I was drafting something at the eleventh hour.  It was important to make sure that I hit my targets.  Some of my posts covered technology, but many more were about the things I do now: writing, blogging, and community relations.  I’m still a technical person, but now I spend the majority of my time writing blogs, editing white papers, and talking to people.

I found out that I like writing.  Quite a bit, in fact.  I like thinking about a given situation or technology and analyzing the different aspects.  I like taking an orthogonal approach to a topic everyone is discussing.  Sometimes, that means I get to play the devil’s advocate.  Other times I make a stand against something I don’t like.  In fact, I created an entire Activism category for blog posts solely because I’ve spent a lot of time discussing issues that I think need to be addressed.

The Next Chapter

Now, all that being said, I’m going to look forward to writing in the future.  I’m probably going to throttle back just a bit on the “two posts per week” target.  With Network Computing going strong, I don’t want to compromise on either front.  That means I’ll probably cut back a post or two here to make sure all my posts are of good quality.  More than once this year I was told, “You write way more than you need to.”  In many ways, that’s because there’s a lot going on in my brain.  This blog serves as a way for me to get it all out and in a form that I can digest and analyze.  I’m just pleased that others find it interesting as well.

Tech Field Day is going to keep me busy in the coming year.  It’s going to give me a lot of exposure to topics I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to be involved in.  Hopefully that means I’m going to spend more time writing technical things alongside my discussions of social media, writing, and the occasional humorous list.

I’m not out of ideas.  Not by a long shot.  But, I think that some of my ideas are going to need some time to percolate as opposed to just throwing them out there half baked.  Technology is changing every day.  It’s important to be a part of what’s going on and how it can best be used to affect change in a world that hasn’t seen much upheaval in the last decade.  I hope that some of the things I write in the coming months will help in some small part to move the needle.

Is The Blog Dead?

I couldn’t help but notice an article that kept getting tweeted about and linked all over the place last week.  It was a piece by Jason Kottke titled “R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013“.  It’s actually a bit of commentary on a longer piece he wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab called “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog“.  Kottke talks about how people today are more likely to turn to the various social media channels to spread their message rather than the tried-and-true arena of the blog.

Kottke admits in both pieces that blogging isn’t going away.  He even admits that blogging is going to be his go-to written form for a long time to come.  But the fact that the article spread around like wildfire got me to thinking about why blogging is so important to me.  I didn’t start out as a blogger.  My foray into the greater online world first came through Facebook.  Later, as I decided to make it more professional I turned to Twitter to interact with people.  Blogging wasn’t even the first thing on my mind.  As I started writing though, I realized how important it is to the greater community.  The reason?  Blogging is thought without restriction.

Automatic Filtration

Social media is wonderful for interaction.  It allows you to talk to friends and followers around the world.  I’m still amazed when I have conversations in real time with Aussies and Belgians.  However, social media facilitates these conversations through an immense filtering system.  Sometimes, we aren’t aware of the filters and restrictions placed on our communications.

twitter02_color_128x128Twitter forces users to think in 140-ish characters.  Ideas must be small enough to digest and easily recirculate.  I’ve even caught myself cutting down on thoughts in order to hit the smaller target of being about to put “RT: @networkingnerd” at the begging for tweet attribution.  Part of the reason I started a blog was because I had thoughts that were more than 140 characters long.  The words just flow for some ideas.  There’s no way I could really express myself if I had to make ten or more tweets to express what I was thinking on a subject.  Not to mention that most people on Twitter are conditioned to unfollow prolific tweeters when they start firing off tweet after tweet in rapid succession.

facebook_color02_128x128Facebook is better for longer discussion, but they are worse from the filtering department. The changes to their news feed algorithm this year weren’t the first time that Facebook has tweaked the way that users view their firehose of updates.  They believe in curating a given users feed to display what they think is relevant.  At best this smacks of arrogance.  Why does Facebook think they know what’s more important to me that I do?  Why must my Facebook app always default to Most Important rather than my preferred Most Recent?  Facebook has been searching for a way to monetize their product even before their rocky IPO.  By offering advertisers a prime spot in a user’s news feed, they can guarantee that the ad will be viewed thanks to the heavy handed way that they curate the feed.  As much reach as Facebook has, I can’t trust them to put my posts and articles where they belong for people that want to read what I have to say.

Other social platforms suffer from artificial restriction.  Pinterest is great for those that post with picture and captions or comments.  It’s not the best for me to write long pieces, especially when they aren’t about a craft or a wish list for gifts.  Tumblr is more suited for blogging, but the comment system is geared toward sharing and not constructive discussion.  Add in the fact that Tumblr is blocked in many enterprise networks due to questionable content and you can see how limiting the reach of a single person can be when it comes to corporate policy.  I had to fight this battle in my old job more than once in order to read some very smart people that blogged on Tumblr.

Blogging for me is about unrestricted freedom to pour out my thoughts.  I don’t want to worry about who will see it or how it will be read.  I want people to digest my thoughts and words and have a reaction.  Whether they choose to share it via numerous social media channels or leave a comment makes no difference to me.  I like seeing people share what I’ve committed to virtual paper.  A blog gives me an avenue to write and write without worry.  Sometimes that means it’s just a few paragraphs about something humorous.  Other times it’s an activist rant about something I find abhorrent.  The key is that those thoughts can co-exist without fear of being pigeonholed or categorized by an algorithm or other artificial filter.


Tom’s Take

Sometimes, people make sensationalist posts to call attention to things.  I’ve done it before and will likely do it again in the future.  The key is to read what’s offered and make your own conclusion.  For some, that will be via retweeting or liking.  For others, it will be adding a +1 or a heart.  For me, it’s about collecting my thoughts and pouring them out via a well-worn keyboard on WordPress.  It’s about sharing everything rattling around in my head and offering up analysis and opinion for all to see.  That part isn’t going away any time soon, despite what others might say about blogging in general.  So long as we continue to express ourselves without restriction, the blog will never really die no matter how we choose to share it.

Don’t Just Curate, Cultivate

Sprout

Content curation is all the rage.  The rank and file folks online tend to get overwhelmed by the amount of information spewing from the firehose.  For the most part, they don’t want to know every little detail about everything.  They want salient points about a topic or how an article fits into the bigger picture.  This is the calling card of a content curator.  They organize the chaos and attempt to attach meaning and context to things.  It does work well for some applications.

Hall of Books

One of the biggest issues that I have with curation is that it lends itself to collection only.  I picture curated content like a giant library or study full of old books.  All that information has been amassed and cataloged somehow.  The curator has probably read each of those books once or perhaps twice before.  They can recall the important points when prompted.  But why does all that information need to be stored in a building the size of a warehouse?  Why do we feel the need to collect all that data and then leave it at rest, whether it be in a library or in a list of blogs or sources?

Content curation feels lazy.  I can create a list of bloggers that I want you to follow.  I want you to know that I read these blogs and think the writers make excellent points.  But how often should you go back and look at those lists again?  One of the greatest tragedies of blogging is the number of dead, dying, or abandoned blogs out there.  Part of my job is to evaluate potential delegates for Tech Field Day based on a number of factors.  One of my yardsticks is blogging.

Seeing a blog that has very infrequent posts makes me a bit sad.  That person obviously had something to say at some point.  As time wore on, the amount of things to say drifted away.  Maybe real life got in the way.  Perhaps a new shiny object caught their attention.  The worst is a blog that has only had two posts in the last year that both start with, “I know I haven’t blogged here in a while, but that’s going to change…”

Reaping What You Sow

I think the key to keeping that from happening is to avoid static collection of content.  We need to cultivate that content just like a farmer would cultivate a field.  Care and feeding of writers and bloggers is very important.  Writers can be encouraged by leaving comments or by sharing articles that they have written.  Engaging them in discussion to feed new ideas is also a great way to keep the fire of inspiration burning.

One of the other important ways to keep content creators from getting stale is to look at your blogrolls and lists of followed blogs and move things around from time to time.  I know for a fact that many people don’t scroll very far down the list to find blogs to read.  The further up the list you are, the more likely people are to take the time to read what you have to say.  The key for those wanting to share great writers is to put them up higher on the list.  Too often a blog will be buried toward the bottom of a list and not get the kind of attention the writer needs to keep going.  More likely is a blog at the top of a list that hasn’t posted in weeks or months.

Everyone should do their part to cultivate content creators.  Don’t just settle for putting them on a list and calling it a day.  Revisit those lists frequently to be sure that the people on them are still producing.  For some it will be easy.  There are people like Ivan Pepelnjak and Greg Ferro that are born writers.  Others might need some encouragement.  If you see a good writer than has fallen off in the posting department lately, all it might take is a new comment on a recent post or a mention on Twitter/Facebook/Google+ asking how the writing is coming along.  Just putting the thought in their mind is often enough to get the creative juices flowing again.


Tom’s Take

I’m going to do my part as well.  I’m going to try to keep up with my blogroll a bit more often.  I’m going to make sure people are writing and showing everyone just how great they are.  Perhaps it’s a bit selfish on my part.  The more writers and creators there are the more choices I have to pick from when it’s time to pick new Field Day delegates.  Deep down inside, I just want more writers.  I want to spend as much time as possible every morning reading great articles and adding to the greater body of knowledge.  If that means  I need to spend more time looking after those same writers, then I guess it’s time for me to be a writer farmer.