At Some Point I Started Caring About What I Wrote Here [en]

[fr] A un moment donné j'ai commencé à me soucier de ce que j'écrivais ici. Dans le sens de me soucier de ce qu'on allait en penser.

When did it happen? I’m not so sure. At some point, I started caring about what I wrote on my blog. I started thinking about what others would think. I used to just write what I felt like writing. I didn’t have this sense that I had an “audience”. Sixteen years ago, pretty much nobody I knew was online. I knew online people, of course. But they were online people. My tribe.

I realised that after following an online course called Writing Your Grief. It was just after Tounsi’s death, but I’d already signed up – it was coincidental. For the first time in a long time I was writing things that weren’t meant to be published, but that weren’t journaling either. It was an extraordinary experience: not just as related to my grief, but for the writing. We had a private Facebook group in which we could share our writing and read each other’s pieces. A room full of compassionate strangers. I hadn’t written like that in years. More than a decade, maybe. And I loved what I wrote. You know, when words seem to write themselves, and your writing actually tells you something?

Morning Pages do that, but they are less structured. More stream-of-consciousness. I haven’t been able to pick up Morning Pages again since Tounsi died. Maybe I will someday. Right now I feel like I’m holding on by the skin of my teeth, so I don’t have the courage to dive back in.
While I was mulling over this new/old writing I’ve connected with (again?), Adam shared a link to this piece about blogging. Which I read.

You know it’s a recurring theme here on Climb to the Stars. I miss the Golden Age of Blogging. And when I was reading the piece linked above, about how blogging went from carefree online writing to being all about influencers, my feelings finally collided into a thought: yes, that was it. I missed writing without caring too much about what people would think. About being judged. About having to be “good” because my job depends on it now. Similarly, I noted the other day on Facebook that I wasn’t online to sell or market stuff, I was online because I liked it here. Because I enjoy it.

Catch-22, right? Because I enjoy it, I made it my job, and now it matters. I’m not a nobody anymore. I have clients. Colleagues in the industry. And I care what they think. And so I write less. I’m careful. I self-censor – more. I enjoy it less.

And now I’ve found a different pleasure in writing. Writing things I’m scared to show people, because I hope they’re good, but fear they’re banal. Expectations. Ah, expectations.

I guess I’ll just keep writing.


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Blogging, Morning Pages, Goals, Habits, and Accounting [en]

[fr] Petite réflexion sur ma difficulté à bloguer régulièrement, une prise de conscience sur le type d'activité que j'arrive à faire régulièrement (comparé aux projets long-terme devant lesquels je me décourage), et peut-être une clé pour exploiter l'un afin de me réconcilier avec l'autre. Ayant avec succès fait de bonnes avancées dans ma compta (en souffrance permanente) après avoir décidé de bloquer trois heures par semaine pour ça, je vais tenter de faire ça avec le blog. C'est trop de temps, me direz-vous, et vous avez raison: mais j'ai d'autres occupations "B" pour remplir la plage de temps si je n'en ai pas besoin en entier.

I am not blogging as much as I would like. This has been a constant over the last years and you’re probably tired of hearing me say it. Trust me, I’m even more tired of living it.

I have tons of things to write about. But I’m also stressed about “more important” things I feel I have to do before I blog (like work; or accounting). And then my post ideas turn into Big Ideas and I don’t dare start writing because I fear I’ll end up writing for hours. And then time passes, and I haven’t blogged, and the more time passes, the more I pressure myself to produce something, and the less I start writing — because blogging for me is about responding to an impulse to share.

So, this is an ongoing struggle.


Why bother? Blogging is important to me because it holds meaning. For my life, I mean. I guess it’s a bit tacky or commonplace in the era of social media (or are we post-social-media yet?) but writing in public is one of the main ways I try to contribute to the world.

Here are two ideas. I can directly link their existence to the fact I started doing Morning Pages.

The first is that I should give myself a rule. It would like something like this: “If I haven’t posted an article in the last 10 days, I will write an article about anything, just to get an article out.”

A few comments about this.

  • This is what I’m doing now. For weeks, “write blog post” has been scurrying around in my task lists. But I never get around to it. I have a list of things to write about, which means I can’t decide which one to start with, adding another reason not to write. Tonight, I just thought “OMG, I just need to write something to reset the clock and remove the pressure”.
  • I don’t like the idea of “filler” blogging. You see it on high-volume blogs, mainly: fluffy articles that are obviously there so that something could be published today. I’m making the bet that because my non-writing is not related to “not enough to say”, I will not fall into that trap. Another difference, I think, is that I’m “producing content” (ack) for me (to help myself blog) rather than to reach some kind of objective, or for others.
  • Morning Pages have shown me that I can write about anything for three pages. I don’t suffer from writer’s block much (though… maybe this thing I’m struggling with is blogger’s block), but even so, it gives me the confidence that if I open a new blog post I will have things to write about.

Vidy automne

The second idea is more something that I have understood about myself, while doing Morning Pages. You see, I’ve often wondered why although I see myself as somebody who has trouble working on things long-term (writing a book, fear) I am usually very good at sticking with something once I decide to do it. In that way, I am disciplined. I have been doing judo for over twenty years. Blogging for sixteen. On a smaller scale, when I start doing something I very often stick with it for quite some time. I’m not the person who signs up at the gym and goes twice.

Morning Pages is another example: I took up the exercise to see if it worked for me, but it was pretty clear I was going to be sticking with it for at least weeks (more like months) to try it out.

I realised that there is a common denominator to these activities that I stick with: they are repetitive. Small chunks of activity that I repeat again and again and again. Writing a book feels like one big activity that you need to slice up to get through it. Writing morning pages or blogging is a collection of little activities that end up coming together to become a big one.

This gave me a key: turn long-term activities or projects into a small-scale form that I can repeat regularly and stick to.

This probably sounds trivial to you. Of course the way to approach a big project is to slice it up into manageable chunks. I knew that too. But I think the missing piece is the idea to turn the objective into a habit, not just into a series of sub-objectives.

Earlier this year, Jean-Christophe Aubry gave a workshop on goal setting at eclau. I am not exaggerating by saying it was life-changing for me. I am still digesting some of the things I learned and will write about it in the future. (I actually followed the workshop a second time as Elisabeth and I invited Jean-Christophe to hold it during our career development workshop series for musicians.)

One of my first take-aways was the distinction between mastery and performance/results goals. Mastery goals are much more motivating and tend to be those that end up working. So the trick is to transform your initial goal (often performance or result) into a mastery goal. James Clear has written about similar stuff. A very rough summary would be to focus on building habits rather than setting goals.

Anyway, all this coalesced for me a few months ago. My ongoing yearly pain as a solopreneur is my accounting. Each year, I find myself with piles of unsorted receipts and expenses and a rather tight stressful deadline to get everything done for my accountant so I can avoid getting in trouble with our tax service. Each year, I vow to do things differently next year, and keep my accounting up-to-date. Each year, I fail.

I had a brainwave one morning whilst doing my Morning Pages: what if I firewalled time to work on my accounting, a little each week? I had too much stuff going on to drop everything and do my accounting for three days straight, but I could afford to set aside three hours a week to chip at the block.

But what would happen once I had caught up with the backlog? Three hours a week is way too much for accounting (even if you add on invoicing and paying bills). I’d wanted to build a habit around accounting previously, but weekly seemed too often and monthly… well, monthly is just too abstract. The rhythm in my life is weeks and seasons. Months only exist in the calendar.

I decided that I would use any leftover time in those three hours (once I was up-to-date) to work on a creative project – something I never feel like I can allow myself to do. I’m not there yet (2016 backlog now) but the idea is extremely motivating.

Grue vidy

After this digression, about Morning Pages, habits, sticking to stuff, accounting, let’s get back to blogging. My success with accounting is encouraging me to try to convert other things to a “weekly habit”. Things like blogging. I’d like to make it daily, of course, but let’s be real. If I were writing one or two posts a week regularly I’d be a very happy blogger. And I’m pretty sure that writing more often would encourage me to write shorter posts. (Sorry. And thanks if you’re still reading me.)

So that is my second idea. I don’t have the solution yet, but I’ve been tossing ideas around (during my Morning Pages mainly). Should I blog in the morning or at the end of the workday? End seems more logical, but by the end of the day I am generally spent. Plus I often have stuff in the evenings (judo, workshops, conferences, board meetings, you name it).

I have thought of stopping work at 5pm and blogging then on the days I don’t have to leave. But today, right now, writing this blog post, I think I should follow the lead of my accounting success and firewall a 9-12 for my blog. I have a backlog of things to do like import my old Open Ears posts, cross-post my newsletters, etc. – more than enough to keep me busy for whatever time is left once I’ve finished writing. It’ll also give me a slot to catch up with my week-end newsletters if I’m running late, as I often am.

See, this is one of the reasons I blog. Like so many other long-running bloggers, I do it because it helps me think. And if in the process it can help somebody else or simply be of interest, all the better!

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Partager, partager, partager [fr]

[en] On the importance of sharing. A heartfelt thanks to Loïc and Laurent for the inspiring discussion at Silicon Valais!

Hier soir, j’étais à Silicon Valais 2016. J’étais déjà dans le Chablais Vaudois, donc le saut de puce jusqu’à Sierre en était un peu raccourci. Loïc était l’intervenant d’honneur de la journée, interviewé sur scène par Laurent. Je n’avais pas vu Loïc depuis des années (ayant raté Paris en mai), et Laurent fait partie de ces gens que je ne vois pas assez souvent même s’il habite à côté — décision facile, donc. En plus, je sais pas comment ils font, mais ils réussissent toujours à avoir du soleil, en Valais.

Soleil en Valais, au Technopôle de Sierre.

Le format de la discussion pour aborder la Silicon Valley, et les leçons apprises par Loïc au cours de sa carrière d’entrepreneur, était vraiment très bon, et bien mené. Je n’ai pas vu passer le temps. Me replonger à travers le récit de Loïc dans ces morceaux d’histoire familière, et me retrouver en contact avec l’énergie de découverte et d’émerveillement face au futur qui pénètre notre présent, ça m’a fait beaucoup de bien.

Depuis quelques années en effet, je suis passablement nostalgique de cette période entre 2004 et 2009 environ, qui représente pour moi “l’âge d’or” des blogs et des premiers réseaux sociaux. Ça bouillonnait, le monde changeait, on était en train de construire l’avenir, nous, “les gens connectés”. La discussion entre Laurent et Loïc me replonge dans cet état d’esprit.

Mais ce n’est pas pour sauter dans la machine à remonter le temps que j’écris aujourd’hui. C’est pour rapporter le conseil #1 que fait Loïc aux aspirants entrepreneurs: partager, partager, partager.

Construire en public, être ouvert.

Être généreux de son temps, de son savoir, de ses connexions.

Penser long terme, ne pas sacrifier les opportunités futures sur l’autel du gain immédiat de l’exploitation d’autrui.

Créer quelque chose qui nous parle, sans vouloir à tout prix monter le business du siècle.

Ça vous dit quelque chose, tout ça? Si vous me connaissez, j’imagine bien que oui.

Au tout début de la conférence, Loïc raconte comment il s’est assis par hasard à côté de Joi au WEF. Intrigué par ce que celui-ci faisait sur son ordinateur, il ne l’a pas lâché jusqu’à ce qu’il lui ait appris à bloguer. Bloguer, une pratique qui a changé sa vie… et la mienne.

Cette éthique du partage, cette foi dans les opportunités inimaginables (au sens propre) que peut nous apporter le fait de vivre nos vies et nos idées un peu publiquement dans les espaces numériques, c’est quelque chose que je retrouve très fortement chez les blogueurs de “la grande époque”. On a compris, dans nos tripes, le pouvoir de la réciprocité quand elle s’ancre dans la générosité désintéressée, et d’une certaine dose de vulnérabilité pour nous rapprocher les uns des autres.

Je la vois moins chez ceux qui ont trouvé leur maturité numérique à l’ère de Facebook, sous le règne des algorithmes, de l’immédiateté encore plus immédiate, de la popularité encore plus éphémère, de la concurrence effrénée d’un espace saturé de marketing, au point même que pour “réussir”, il faut traiter les personnes comme des marques. La mise en scène narcissique de soi prend le pas sur les conversations et échanges authentiques, et on se sent pris dans une course à l’audience, pour capter une lichette de notre attention déjà sursollicitée.

Bon dieu, on croirait entendre un critique réfractaire au numérique d’il y a dix ans! Je suis dure, et il n’y a certes pas que ça dans les espaces sociaux numériques de 2016, mais c’est tristement ce qui domine.

Voilà pourquoi je m’accroche à ce blog. Les relations ont besoin de temps. Les idées ont besoin d’espace. Les newsletters regagnent en popularité, c’est pas pour rien.

Il y a de la place sur Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter et consorts pour le genre de partage dont Loïc et moi parlons: mais pour cela, il faut laisser un peu de côté ses objectifs, oublier la chasse aux likes et aux followers, et plutôt se demander ce qu’on peut faire pour les autres, s’ouvrir à partager ce qui nous fait sourire ou rêver, ce qui nous interpelle, ce sur quoi on s’interroge — même si ça “ne sert à rien”. On ne peut jamais savoir quelles portes s’ouvriront parce qu’on regarde tomber la pluie ou qu’on a rencontré un gros chien.

C’est comme dans la vie “hors ligne”. On sous-estime complètement à quel point nos opportunités professionnelles tiennent souvent à des connexions personnelles ou des échanges en apparence futiles. Quand ça arrive, on se dit que c’est un coup de chance, ou l’exception — alors que c’est plutôt la règle.

Laissons au monde une chance de venir à nous, en nous donnant d’abord un peu à lui.

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Elle écrit plus? [fr]

[en] Why I'm struggling to write, these days: I'm trying to clarify all my cluetrainy ideas about the internet, people, and the world – and though they come out readily in conversations (having a lot of those these days as I have launched my 2016 professional website) I am struggling to squeeze them into post format. I wish I had Euan's gift for concision!

Not that comfortable

Mes articles ont du mal à sortir, ces jours. La raison en est que je suis en train de mettre de l’ordre dans tout un tas d’idées qui servent de fondement à mon travail. Des évidences (pour moi) concernant notre condition d’homo numericus, la nature des espaces numériques qui imprègnent nos vies, nos relations les uns aux autres et le rôle que celles-ci jouent à influencer le cours de nos vies.

Ce ne sont pas des idées nouvelles, mais je les développe généralement au cours de conversations, souvent en tant que prérequis aux autres thèmes qui nous préoccupent plus officiellement: est-ce que je devrais vraiment être sur Facebook pour mon travail? A quoi ça sert de poster des photos de vacances? Twitter, je capte toujours pas, c’est nul… Sur quoi je vais communiquer pour ma présence en ligne?

J’ai déjà pas mal dégrossi en préparant la nouvelle mouture de mon site web professionnel (en anglais, mais il y a une page en français). Parlant de nouveau site, à part ça, n’hésitez pas à diriger chez moi les gens de votre entourage qui pourraient bénéficier de mes services ou mes ateliers, je vais avoir de la disponibilité pour prendre des nouveaux clients cet automne à côté des ateliers de développement de carrière pour musiciens que je donne avec Elisabeth Stoudmann.

Je reprends le fil: toutes ces choses que j’expose si joyeusement dans un contexte de discussion, j’ai du mal à leur donner une forme d’article. Tout est lié, enchevêtré, et somme toute assez complexe. Je n’ai pas le don de la concision de mon ami et collègue Euan Semple, et chaque fois que je me dis “ah je pourrais faire un article sur ça” je me retrouve à ne pas commencer de peur que l’article devienne un livre. Problème classique que je connais bien.

Histoire de vous montrer que je suis capable de suivre mes propres conseils, je vais me lancer directement avec quelques réflexions sur internet en tant que lieu de vie – versus canal de communication.

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This is How it Happens [en]

[fr] Comment on se retrouve à ne pas bloguer. Un nième article sur la question, avec des éléments nouveaux, bien sûr!

A week goes by, and then another. Things happen. Thoughts are thought, deeds are done, ideas are adopted and then cast away. The backlog builds up.

Many years ago, when a large part of my work was giving talks about “blogs” and “the social web”, I would explain how blogs did something quite special, compared to (then) more familiar forms of offline publication: they connected the reader to the author.


In a hypertext environment, where anybody can reference my writing and comment upon it (even more so when blogs started having comments built in — yup, it wasn’t always the case), the person reading you suddenly has a voice and an existence too. Writing is not sending out messages into the void anymore. It is the beginning of a conversation, of an exchange. And that kind of interaction brings people closer, creates relationships, and even some sort of intimacy. Think “pen pals”. An opportunity for creating rapport.

Social tools do this, not just blogs. When Twitter started becoming popular, we talked about ambient intimacy, for example. The rise of social media and its “massification” meant that this kind of privileged relationship was no more the exclusivity of bloggers and their readers. Everybody online was doing it, in the end. Is.

My blog used to be the place I went, because I had no other, to share things with my tribe online. Thoughts, events, stuff.

Then Twitter came along. And Facebook. Now, my “go to” space is Facebook. But things drown, on Facebook. And as “everyone” is on Facebook, this sense of “special connection” I had with my readers in the early blogging days is gone. But I keep on blogging, because I want my writing to stick around. And more and more, I’m realising, the place where I feel this “special connection” is present is in my newsletters. I actually sent out an “intermittent newsletter” the other day, believe it or not.

So this is how it happens. My urge to publish is satisfied by sharing things on Facebook or having conversations on Slack (previously: IRC), the sense of connection to my readers has moved away from here (most people will comment on a blog post in… Facebook, see?), and time always goes by faster than we think it will. (Oh, regarding the “urge to write” thing: I just remembered that I’d experienced this before, when I invited my readers to vote on what I would write about. Remember? Once I’d written the headline, and the heat of the moment had cooled off, I didn’t feel excited about writing the post anymore.)

The things to say pile up, the barrier to writing goes up, the number of posts goes down.

I have a few brewing right now. I’m hoping these few days at the chalet will provide me with a little space to write. (Oh, you want to know what’s coming? Something about Pokémon GO and Ingress and my analysis of their respective community dynamics. And stuff about the rift in public discourse about political or scientific topics — filter bubble, yes, but more than that: also a shift in the role of the media.)

That’ll be it for now. Want to feel special? Sign up for my intermittent newsletter.

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Anatomie d’un article de blog [fr]

[en] A little analysis of what I did in my previous article, in the spirit of "teaching blogging". Not much to see if you're a blogger, but a little peek behind the scenes which might be of interest if blogging is still a bit of a mystery to you.

Ce n’est un secret pour personne que parmi mes nombreuses activités professionnelles, j’enseigne “le blog”. Comprendre WordPress et sur quel bouton appuyer n’est pas le plus grand challenge. Ce qui est bien plus dur, c’est l’écriture, rentrer dans une communication plus “humaine”, alors qu’on a généralement été formé à la communication de masse et à la rédaction formelle.

html code list blog post

En écrivant mon dernier article, j’imaginais ce que j’expliquerais à mes clients ou étudiants si je devais le décortiquer. Et ça m’a donné envie de le mettre par écrit.

Cet article, il me trottait dans la tête depuis un moment. Deux ou trois semaines en tous cas. C’est un peu la course ces temps, et hier, j’ai réalisé que ça faisait 10 jours que je n’avais rien publié. Ouille! Je me suis dit qu’un peu de rédaction “rapide et facile” ferait un bon break dans ma préparation de cours pour le lendemain.

Tout d’abord, un mot sur ce qui m’a poussé à écrire cet article. La newsletter en question “va bien”, j’ai une bonne quarantaine d’inscrits, des retours, un bon taux d’ouverture, mais j’aimerais bien toucher de nouvelles personnes. Je la mentionne assez régulièrement sur Facebook, donc je vais supposer que les personnes susceptibles de s’y inscrire “comme ça” l’ont fait.

Un article sur ce blog “dure” bien plus longtemps qu’un post sur Facebook. De plus, il est possible que des personnes qui ne me suivent pas de près sur Facebook lisent ce blog avec plus d’attention. Je n’ai pas reparlé ici de la newsletter depuis son lancement, donc c’est peut-être une bonne idée de communiquer que l’expérience a pris et n’a pas été abandonnée.

Surtout, publier ici me permet de faire quelque chose de difficile à faire sur Facebook: rendre les archives plus visibles. En effet, si je peux un peu partir du principe que les personnes pour qui “newsletter: Demande à Steph, numérique pour les nuls” est un argument suffisant pour s’inscrire l’ont déjà fait, peut-être qu’il y a des personnes qui ont besoin de voir plus concrètement de quoi il s’agit pour être intéressées.

Je répète sans me lasser qu’un point clé lorsqu’on publie en ligne est de mâcher le travail à ses lecteurs. Leur faciliter la vie. Leur être utile. Plus on rend l’action qu’on désire facile, plus on a de chances qu’elle se fasse. Donc au lieu de dire “allez regarder les archives“, je vais amener les archives sous le nez de la personne qui est déjà en train de lire, là où elle est en train de lire.

Et faire ça, c’était plus de boulot qu’écrire le reste de l’article. J’ai la chance d’avoir “grandi sur le web” à l’époque où il fallait coder le HTML avec ses petites mains si on voulait aller quelque part, et j’ai donc fait ça “dans le code” pour accélérer la chose. Mais même comme ça, en étant méthodique, en connaissant les raccourcis clavier, ça prend du temps. Moitié moins toutefois que si on manque d’entrainement, à vue de nez.

Les liens, c’est crucial. Retournez voir mon article et imaginez-le sans liens: il perd quasi toute sa valeur et son intérêt. Il n’est là, en fait, que pour envoyer les gens ailleurs. Eh oui, c’est ça le web… envoyer les gens au bon endroit, c’est de la valeur ajoutée! (Voyez, là, je vous ai remis le lien vers mon article, alors que je l’avais déjà donné plus haut… mais je me dis que si à ce stade de votre lecture vous voulez en effet suivre mon injonction et aller voir, ce serait pas hyper cool de ma part de vous faire remonter en haut de la page!)

Alors, les liens. En plus des 12 liens vers les newsletters archivées, je mets un lien vers l’article de janvier auquel je fais référence dans ma phrase d’introduction (“Fin janvier, j’ai lancé deux newsletters”). Le lecteur curieux n’aura pas à faire des explorations archéologiques pour voir de quoi je parle. Je fais aussi un lien direct vers la newsletter dont il est question ici, et à nouveau lorsque j’invite mes lecteurs à s’y inscrire (même raisonnement que celui que j’ai fait dans le paragraphe ci-dessus).

J’ai aussi profité de mon article pour inviter (pas trop lourdement j’espère) les gens à m’écrire avec leurs questions, vu que c’est une tournure que j’aimerais donner à la newsletter.

Finalement, avant de publier, il me fallait une photo pour illustrer l’article. Ce n’est pas obligatoire, et il y a des blogs très bien sans aucune illustration, mais je sais bien que la photo attire l’oeil, et qu’elle est mise en avant de façon très visible quand on partage l’article sur Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter ou ailleurs. C’est donc quelque chose à faire pour “aider au partage”. Je ne suis pas la grande pro de l’illustration, et je mets souvent des photos qui n’ont pas grand chose à voir avec mes articles. Mais là, comme je parle d’une newsletter, je peux facilement (avec Skitch) faire une saisie d’écran de la page d’inscription. J’en ai profité pour mettre une photo de fond sur le formulaire, histoire que ce soit un peu moins gris!

Ensuite, écrire un petit résumé en anglais, choisir la catégorie, jeter quelques tags en pâture à WordPress (il apparaissent en haut à gauche sous la date et la catégorie), publier, partager sur Facebook et Twitter.


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Newsletters in 2016 [en]


Réflexion sur les newsletters en 2016 et le rôle qu'elles peuvent jouer. Méditations sur les blogs, leur désenchantement, Facebook, et Twitter. Je pense qu'il y a un potentiel avec les newsletters de retrouver un sentiment de communauté restreinte et de connexion qui s'est un peu perdu en route avec notre immersion perpétuelle dans notre propre réseau.

Prêts à tenter l'aventure avec moi? Voici mes newsletters, faites votre choix:

For years now, I’ve been thinking about using newsletters better. Or simply, using newsletters. Until recently all I had was a pretty dead newsletter on MailChimp — and the ability for my readers to subscribe to CTTS blog posts and a weekly dump of all the links I save to Delicious.

MailChimp is a powerful tool, probably overkill for me, and I never really managed to ease myself into its process. Sending out an e-mail is dead simple, but sending out my newsletter felt like more work than cranking out a blog post.


Two tools caught my eye over the last year: Revue and TinyLetter (acquired by MailChimp, what a coincidence!)

Revue is designed to help you send out curated lists of links. TinyLetter is a barebones newsletter tool, just what I need.

I’ve been trying to analyse my recent excitement for newsletters over the past days. Like others, I’ve been grieving what I think of as the golden age of blogging. I stumbled upon Tiny Letters to the Web We Miss, which I think hits the nail on the head:

Self-publishing online was fluid and inviting in the early years because the community was self-selecting — the sort of people who would know what Blogspot was in 2003. I didn’t worry about my boss finding my blog. I didn’t worry about getting rape threats in the comments either. (Just thinking about how absurd that sentence would have sounded in 2003 is giving me a crater-sized hit of nostalgia.) We didn’t have the same worries over public personas, because the internet felt like it was just us.

Blogging before social media was like drinking with friends. If someone adjacent to your conversation said something interesting, you would pull up a chair and invite them in. Sometimes a friendly stranger would even buy you a drink.

Everybody is here now, it’s not “just us” anymore.

This reminds me of In Praise of Online Obscurity by Clive Thompson, which I wrote about in 2010. At some point of growth, your “community” dissolves into an “audience” (on Twitter, on blogs) or a “network” (on Facebook). Engagement drops. People retreat.

Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant starts to feel anonymous again, and the person they’re following — who once seemed proximal, like a friend — now seems larger than life and remote. “They feel they can’t possibly be the person who’s going to make the useful contribution,” Evans says. So the conversation stops. Evans isn’t alone. I’ve heard this story again and again from those who’ve risen into the lower ranks of microfame. At a few hundred or a few thousand followers, they’re having fun — but any bigger and it falls apart. Social media stops being social. It’s no longer a bantering process of thinking and living out loud. It becomes old-fashioned broadcasting.

This dynamic is behind the somewhat counter-intuitive fact that more followers on Twitter does not mean more influence, and that getting a boost in followers through presence on a list doesn’t mean more retweets or replies.

Already at the time of my 2010 article, this was how I analysed what had happened to blogging:

I think that this is one of the things that has happened to the blogging world (another topic I have simmering for one of these days). Eight-ten years ago, the community was smaller. Having a thousand or so readers a day already meant that you were a big fish. Now, being a big fish means that you’re TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb, publications that for some reason people still insist on calling “blogs”, and we “normal bloggers” do not recognize ourselves anymore in these mega-publications. The “big fish” issue here is not so much that formerly-big-fish bloggers have had the spotlight stolen from them and they resent it (which can also be true, by the way), but more that the ecosystem has completely changed.

The “blog-reading community” has grown hugely in numbers. Ten years ago, one thousand people reading a blog felt special because they were out-of-the-mainstream, they could connect with the author of what they read, and maybe they also had their own little blog somewhere. Nowadays, one thousand people reading a blog are just one thousand people doing the mainstream thing online people do: reading blogs and the like. The sense of specialness has left the blogosphere.

So there you have it. We “lost” something when the internet went from “just us” to “everyone”: part of our sense of community. People reading my blog don’t feel special anymore. I don’t even feel that special anymore for writing it. Blogs aren’t special. Numbers have declined, and I’m sure it’s not just due to the fact I’m slipping into old-fartdom and neglecting my beloved blog to romp in the bushes with Facebook.

The place where we go to connect online is Facebook, or Twitter, or Google Plus. We spend our time in real-time, and head out to read this or that when a link nudges us. We might be part of communities inside Facebook groups, or small delimited spaces, but overall we are spending our time just hooked into our network.

When I was directing the SAWI Social Media and Online Communities course, I read this article by Rich Millington about the distinction between communities and followings. I formalised a three-way distinction for my classes in the following way.

Audiences: around non-social products, bloggers, authors, politicians, salespeople, “fame”

  • attracted by you
  • interact with you
  • not interlinked
  • large scale

Networks: to filter information, connect people, search

  • individual relationships
  • two-way
  • interlinked
  • each node is its own centre

Communities: “a group of people who care about each other more than they should” (Cluetrain)

  • common object of interest
  • interactions inside the group
  • human-sized
  • investment of time, emotion, ego
  • around social objects and niche services

A few years later (and even as I was using it to teach), it’s clear this typology is a bit wobbly, and many spaces are hybrids. But it remains a useful thinking tool.

When I discovered Twitter, I was spending most of my online time on IRC. I remember that one of my first strong feelings about Twitter was that it felt a bit like an IRC channel which had all the people I cared about and only them in it. (I spent my first few days/weeks on Twitter frantically recruiting.) They didn’t all know each other, and didn’t realise they were rubbing shoulders in “my” room, but for me, it was really as if I had managed to invite everybody to my birthday party.

That’s the network.

Facebook entered my world, and the same thing happened. Life online became more and more about the network. And as the network grew (and grew and grew), all our time and attention poured into it. It’s great to have a place which is populated nearly only by people you know and care about. Facebook does that for you.

Who wants to hang out in blog comments when there is Facebook and Twitter?

As you can see, I’m thinking out loud in this rambly, slightly contradictory blog post. If you can synthesise all this better, definitely have a go at it (in the comments or on your blog — link back!) I can’t quite wrap my head around all this, I feel like I’m still missing a piece.

Back to newsletters.

What newsletters definitely have chance of bringing back is this feeling of small scale. When I write a blog post, like this one, I’m not writing it for a dedicated group of readers anymore. I know you’re still out there, of course, all three of you who actually follow my blog ;-), but I’m also very much aware that I am writing for a whole pile of strangers who will stumble her after a google search. I am writing for everyone.

Email can be very personal. It goes from private space to private space (the inbox). It definitely feels more personal to write than a blog post. But it’s funny, in a way, because this post is going to reach some of you by email, and newsletters are often archived publicly on the web. There shouldn’t be a difference, right?

But there is, because the medium or tool you use really changes the way you express yourself and connect. “Email first” or “web first” does not produce the same writing.

So let’s see what happens with this newsletter experiment, OK? Take your pick and subscribe to:

And seriously, I’m really looking forward to your comments on all the stuff I’ve talked about here.

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Comment écrit-on? Plagiat, paraphrase et compagnie [fr]

[en] Contact with a few batches to bachelor students these last years has led me to believe that "writing" for many of them means "copy, paste, remix a bit". Cue an article on plagiarism...

Il y a très longtemps, j’écrivais sur du papier. Brouillon, ratures, prévoir du temps pour recopier au propre. Depuis la fin de l’uni, et même avant, ça ne m’arrive plus. J’écris sur clavier. J’ai la grande chance d’être douée d’un excellent premier jet. Souvent, je ne relis même pas avant de publier. C’est “facile” pour moi. Avec les années, j’ai appris que ce n’était pas le cas pour tout le monde.

J'écris mal

Je viens de finir d’écouter un épisode de Note to Self sur le plagiat. On y parle de quelque chose que j’ai constaté ces deux dernières années avec mes étudiants de bachelor: pour beaucoup, écrire signifie copier, coller, et, si on a de la chance, remixer un coup. En saupoudrant de paraphrase.

Pour nous qui avons appris à écrire “avant les ordinateurs”, cela n’avait pas des masses de sens de recopier mot pour mot ce qu’on trouvait dans nos manuels ou encyclopédies. Certes, certains le faisaient certainement, mais comparez l’effort requis à celui de copier-coller puis changer quelques mots.

Dans mes cours de blog, j’ai jusqu’ici laissé pas mal de liberté à mes étudiants concernant leur choix de thématique. Une chose sur laquelle je ne fais aucune concession, toutefois: ils doivent publier du contenu original. Du contenu qu’ils ont écrit eux-mêmes. Je suppose qu’il est clair pour eux que le plagiat est un péché capital, mais dans le doute, on repasse une couche.

Malgré cela, je me retrouve avec chaque classe face à une collection d’articles qui sont au mieux de la paraphrase maladroite. Cela devient un point de contention avec les étudiants. Je me demande s’ils me prennent vraiment pour une idiote, mais avec le recul, je me dis qu’ils n’ont peut-être simplement jamais vraiment appris à écrire, et qu’ils s’en sont tiré “en faisant ça” dans leurs études jusqu’ici.

En particulier, je pense qu’on ne leur a jamais appris comment paraphraser correctement (digérer le texte source, cacher celui-ci, écrire avec ses propres mots, contrôler pour la justesse des idées/faits et l’absence de citation directe involontaire).

Après “un peu” de recherche en ligne (ahem! ça aussi c’est une compétence qui manque souvent!), il me semble que les sources francophones que j’ai trouvées insistent sur “c’est mal, voici ce qu’il ne faut pas faire” mais ne montrent pas avec beaucoup de détail comment faire mieux. En anglais, il y a, qui semble très bien, un tutoriel de l’Université du Missouri, des indications sur comment éviter le plagiat “copier-coller” grâce aux citations, des exemples de paraphrases acceptables et non acceptables (ici aussi).

On me demande parfois comment je “détecte” le copier-coller sous-jacent. Je n’utilise pas de programme anti-plagiat (probablement pourtant que ça m’épargnerait les nerfs). Mais à force d’années de linguistique, d’analyse de texte, de lecture et d’écriture, je sens immédiatement le changement d’auteur à la lecture. La plupart des étudiants que j’ai croisés dans mes cours n’écrivent pas aussi bien que les textes qu’ils plagient, et ne savent pas ménager une transition. De plus, dans un cours de blog, on travaille un certain style d’écriture qui est rarement celui des sources “d’inspiration”.

Alors c’est clair, on cite avec moins de rigueur académique quand on blogue, mais le principe sous-jacent reste le même: éviter de faire passer les idées ou les mots d’autrui pour les siens. Le moyen le plus simple d’éviter ça? Ecrire des choses qui sont déjà dans sa tête, et qu’on n’a pas besoin d’aller piquer sur des sites existants. Et faire des liens vers nos sources.

Il reste après le problème du plagiat involontaire, mais ça, c’est une autre histoire…

(Zut, je voulais parler aussi de la difficulté constatée chez mes étudiants à simplement “construire” un texte, à argumenter, etc — mais ce sera pour une autre fois, ce billet est déjà assez long!)

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No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

[fr] Une des grandes difficultés dans l'art de bloguer: intégrer des liens à son texte. D'une part parce que les liens rajoutent une dimension au texte, perçant en quelque sorte des trous dans celui-ci par lesquels le lecteur est libre de s'échapper, à la façon des "livres dont vous êtes le héros" de notre adolescence, et d'autre part parce que la nature hypertexte du web donne à l'intertextualité une place capitale. Un article de blog n'est pas une île isolée, mais un fragment textuel nageant au milieu d'un océan d'autres fragments similaires, avec lequel il a des liens plus ou moins proches, que la bonne maîtrise de l'hyperlien permet d'expliciter. Ceci nécessite, outre une habileté avec les mots (pour pouvoir retourner sa phrase dans le sens qui permet un bon ancrage du lien), une certaine culture des autres textes entourant le sien. Sinon, comment faire des liens qui feront sens?

Fellow blogger Adam Tinworth points to a leaked memo from The Guardian encouraging internal linking. He shares his astonishment on Facebook “that this still isn’t standard practice at most places”. I am not that astonished, I have to say.

During my many years as blog editor-in-chief and teaching blogging to students, I have seen again and again that from a technical point of view, aside from managing to write in your own personal voice, the most difficult aspect of blogging to master is integrating hyperlinks into your writing.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

I think this is because writing well with hyperlinks requires one to write differently. It is not just about “writing and then adding links”.

Adding meaningful hyperlinks to your sentences is going to have an impact on the way you construct them. You need to be comfortable shuffling the words around, or looking for others, so that you end up with a phrase that provides you with adequate anchor text for the link you want to insert.

Most people’s training in writing is probably in standalone texts. Offline writing, the type that worked well on paper. Your reader starts at the top, and finishes at the bottom. You may have footnotes and references, but nothing as dramatic as a hyperlink, which literally pokes a hole in your text.

I like to think of hyperlinks as adding an extra dimension to a text. Normal text is 1D. Just follow it through. Hypertext is 2D at least — remember those books we must all have read as teenagers? If you go right, head to page 16, but if turn left, run off to page 67?

So, the first challenge in writing with links is finding a gracious way to anchor all those links into your words.

The second challenge is less obvious, but even more important: intertextuality.

Intertextuality” is a rather vast topic, but it generally has to do with the fact that how you understand or read one text can be shaped by your knowledge of another. References or allusions, explicit or not, that connect different texts.

On the web, everything we write is swimming in a sea of other interconnected texts. It’s not called the World Wide Web for nothing, dammit. Everything that is published on the web is stitched together. The blog post you are writing now is not an island, it is swimming alongside all sorts of other pieces of writing. How you position your piece of writing amongst the others may be just as important as the writing itself.

Intertextuality in the world of hypertext is a crucial thing to be aware of.

What are you going to link to? What is there out there that complements your writing, or takes your reader further, or down a parallel path? What are the associations between parts of your writing and preexisting writing?

This requires, in addition to the will to connect one’s writing into this existing web, some degree of knowledge of what is out there. Culture. Or dexterity in the use of the search engine. Or both.

I agree with Adam: internal linking should be a no-brainer. I do it a lot on Climb to the Stars: whenever I’m writing a blog post, I’m wondering what else I have written in the past which is related to it. Am I building upon a previous post? Am I writing on a topic I’ve already touched upon? How can I work a link to this or that post into what I’m writing now?

I do it on Open Ears too. As editor-in-chief, I have read all the articles we publish. The difficulty is I often receive articles which are written as standalone pieces, so I have to either work with the blogger to incorporate a reference to another article, or do it myself as part of the editing process. But as I mentioned above, adding links changes the way you write and construct your text, so “adding a link” is rarely as straightforward as “just adding a link” — and in some cases can only difficultly be done if it wasn’t planned for from the start.

When I was discovering the web, one of the first sites I spent a lot of time reading was The Psychology of Cyberspace. It’s still online, and I encourage you to visit it: as the author explains, it is an online book, that is, written with hypertext in mind.

There is a table of contents, but in addition to that, inside the chapters, there are links to other chapters whenever there is a mention or a passing reference to something covered elsewhere. This frees the reader to wander around in the order they wish, and avoids redundancy — if you need to explain X again, just link to it. I think this was a very good learning example for me of how to build text online.

So now. How would you teach people the skills to do this, when it doesn’t seem to come naturally to them?

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Stories to Listen to, Moderating Blog Comments, Teaching Blogging [en]

[fr] Deux ou trois épisodes de podcasts à écouter. Quelques réflexions sur les commentaires de blog (spam ou non?) et la difficulté d'apprendre à bloguer.

Listen to Greetings from Coney Island. I swear you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t make the same mistake I did, and be a bit distracted early on, not realising there are two parallel stories, told by two women with (to me) very similar voices. I actually reached the end of the story before realising I had missed the whole point, so I listened to it all again. It was worth it.

vue cham

Another episode of Love+Radio reminded me of a Moth story I heard quite a long time ago now. It’s about a volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline. That story made me understand something about suicide (which I am lucky not to know from the inside): it’s not about wanting to die, it’s about wanting the pain to stop. Like many Moth stories, it’s beautifully told and very moving. Well worth the small moment of your life you will spend listening to it.

I know, this blog is turning into a podcast review. But not only. See.

One of the challenges I face as editor-in-chief of Open Ears is approving comments. Not so much because we publish controversial articles that have people biting each other’s heads off in the comments (not at all, actually), but more because

  1. spambots are getting better and better at sounding human
  2. some humans are sounding more and more like spambots.

About the latter: people like me have been saying for years that a great way to get your website or blog known is to comment on other blogs. But that’s not quite the whole story. Aligning fluffy or self-promotional comments on other people’s blogs might get your “nofollowed” links out there, but isn’t really going to do what matters, which is encouraging people to actually know you and read your stuff because they’re interested. Clicks and visits only really mean anything if they come from the heart.

So what does work? Well, actually, being a valued member of the communities you are part of. At the time, during the Golden Age of Blogging, leaving meaningful comments on blogs you read and linked to was a way of being that. It’s not about the links, it’s about the place you respectfully take or are given willingly. Add value. Be helpful. Try and make friends. That’s the spirit of “leaving comments”.

Which brings me to an important piece of blogging advice I came up with while trying to teach my latest batch of students the basics of blogging (it was, to put it kindly, a mixed success): blog about stuff that’s in your head. Write about what you know. If you have to google around to factcheck this or that, find a link, or look up a detail, that’s fine. But if you find yourself doing research and reading up to gather the material for your blog post (and the post is not about your research), chances are you’re “doing it wrong”.

Blogging is this weird thing which as at the same time so easy (for “natural bloggers”) but so hard to learn or teach. I think that is because it touches upon “being” more than “doing”. It’s about daring a certain degree of authenticity that we are not encouraged to wear in our school or professional lives. And it’s definitely not how we learn to write. In a way, teaching blogging is a bit like trying to teach people to dare to be themselves in public. This makes you think of Brené Brown and vulnerability, does it not? Exactly. And that is why, I think, blogging is a powerful tool to connect people.

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