Newsletters in 2016 [en]

[fr]

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.

Sunset

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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Coworking Musings — Why is More Better? [en]

[fr] A Paris pour Coworking Europe. Trois jours pour penser au coworking et à l'eclau! Là, je médite sur le fait que la mesure du succès pour un espace coworking semble être "plus de coworkers" ou "plus de revenu". Je ne suis pas d'accord, comme vous imaginez, si vous connaissez un peu l'eclau...

Here I am in Paris for Coworking Europe. Three days to think about coworking and talk with other people who are also running spaces or participating in the coworking movement one way or another.

Rather than live-blog, I’ve decided to take a few notes and write more synthetic posts with my thoughts and take-aways.

One of the first things that strikes me is how success seems to be measured by numbers here. More members, better space. I’m not sure I agree. That is in any case definitely not how I manage eclau.

More members means more connections. But at what point do more connections start being “noise”? Do we always need more connections? Is this the single only indicator of success? Take the Hub Melbourne. 700 members. Mind-boggling, but is it still a community? Also, how do you count members? Are they people who have signed up to be on a list, or people who actively and regularly come and work at the coworking space?

I know I’m very careful about how I count numbers. It’s simple at eclau: a member is somebody who shells out the monthly fee. And for that, they have to have signed up for six months minimum. Yes, six months! When I give numbers, I don’t count occasional members, who can come up to 3 times a month and are on the e-mail discussion list. Many of those who sign up for occasional membership never come. Or come once. Counting them feels like cheating.

On the other hand, I see other coworking spaces boasting large numbers of coworkers but which are not “fuller” than eclau on a normal working day. Maybe we should count people actually present in the space instead. Coworker-days or something.

Something else to take into account is the size of the city the coworking space is in. You don’t have the same scale in Lausanne, which counts barely over 100K inhabitants, or London or Paris or New York. The pool of possible coworkers just cannot compare. A space with 700 members in Lausanne? That is the size of a major company for our part of the world. 12 full-time members in London is probably laughable.

Peace. I like small numbers, small groups, small communities — at least offline. I’ve been holding monthly blogger dinners for many years now, and our record attendance is less than 20 people. Despite that, these dinners have allowed countless people to meet and get to know each others, and there are many friendships and business relationships who can boast some kind of Bloggy Friday connection.

The question of numbers, and therefore connections, is probably also different whether you’re catering primarily to entrepreneurs or freelancers. Most established freelancers have their own networks. What interests them (as far as I can see at eclau, at least) is more the network of peers than a network of possible clients and business opportunities. Of course those exist and are there, but I think it’s the peer support that is at the core of eclau’s success.

These observations might be biased as there is certainly some self-selection going on. People who need more connections might go somewhere else.

For the moment, I’m quite happy for eclau to stay “small” — a coworking space where there are sometimes more cats present than humans. 😉

#back2blog challenge (10/10)

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Social, Plural of Personal (or When Personal Scales) [en]

[fr] Grâce à JP et sa série d'articles, je viens de me reconnecter avec ce qui fait la fondation de ma passion pour le web et les médias sociaux: qu'ils mettent les gens en contact direct, et dans le contexte de l'entreprise, humanisent celle-ci. A lire.

Today I am going to send you to read JP Rangaswami, after my latest spree of ranty pots. JP is writing a series of articles around the idea that social is the plural of personal. And he is so spot on.

I was so happy when I read JP’s first article, because it made me remember what attracted me to social media in the first place (at the time, “blogs” or “social software”) and helped me understand the growing dissatisfaction I have developed about the field over the past years.

What I find interesting about social media in a business setting is how it helps humanize the organisation/company. How it puts human beings back in touch with human beings. And how in the context of an authentic relationship, you need to care for things to work out.

I am so frustrated that French does not have a good word to translate “care”.

I had a revelation when I went to the very first Lift Conference, in 2006. Here are the posts I wrote during the conference (see how blogging has evolved since then — this was before Twitter and Facebook). My memory tells me that I owe this revelation mainly to the talks of Robert Scoble and Hugh MacLeod, and the conversations we had during the conversation. I remember that it was this pivotal moment which made me understand what use blogs (at the time) were in a business context, and therefore that there might be a way to earn money with what was fascinating me.

Update: link to lift06 videos.

Six+ years later, well, you know the story.

I’m trying to remember if I also met Euan Semple that year at Lift, or if it was somewhere else, or later. Do you remember, Euan? Anyway, a few weeks before reading JP’s post, I had ordered Euan’s book, “Organizations don’t tweet, people do”. I haven’t yet started reading it but I’m really looking forward to diving in. Same thing: it’s all about putting people, and personal, and relationships, and trust, and authenticity back in front of the scene.

Somewhere along my business life, with all my freelancer insecurities, the pressure to actually earn a living through my activities and interests, I seem to have lost touch with the core of my passion for the living web. Not to the point where I’ve sold out to some ad agency and started spewing out viral videos or whatnot. Not so much in my actions — more just that I forgot.

But I remember now.

Thanks, JP. Thanks, Euan. And thanks to all of you along the way who have not let go and are not letting go, and are working to make our organizations more human-friendly.

#back2blog challenge (7/10):

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Scale in Community and Social Media: Bigger is not Always Better [en]

In his blog post Defriendization is the future of social networks, that I commented upon in Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial, Laurent Haug mentions his previous article Openness is difficult to scale, about how the kind of community involvement that worked for Lift in the early days just did not scale once the conference became more successful. This is a rule we cannot get escape from. Scale changes things. Success is a double-edged sword, because it might bring you into a country where the very thing that made your success is not possible anymore.

Clive Thompson explains this very well when it comes to the number of followers on Twitter, for example, in his Wired piece In Praise of Obscurity. Even if as the person being followed, you don’t really care about the size of the community gathered around you, the people who are part of that community feel its size and their behaviour changes. Bigger is not always better. More people in a community does not make it a better or even more powerful community.

This is one of the reasons it annoys me immensely when people try to measure the value of something by measuring its size. More readers does not mean I’m a better blogger. More friends on Facebook does not mean I’m more popular. More followers on Twitter does not mean I’m more influential.

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.

If you want to keep on reading, I comment upon another of the links Laurent mentions in Log-Out Day: Victims of Technology, or a Chance to Grow?

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Blogsome: a WordPress Weblog Farm [en]

A hosted WordPress weblog provider just opened. I’m testing.

[fr] Blogsome est une solution hébergée fournissant à  qui le désire un weblog WordPress en deux clics (moins d'une minute).

Check out Blogsome. It looks exciting. I’ve set up a test blog: enter a username, an e-mail address, your blog title, and there you are. 1 minute.

I’m very curious to see how this will scale, especially given my experiences with my school blogs. I’m also curious to see if they will release the code used.

If you’re trying it, please let me know what you think!

[via Ollie]

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