Randomer than you

In the process of making some sort of point about “random story” buttons on news sites this morning, I added one to this blog. It’s up top in the nav for now. Look for the obviously labeled link that says “Random Post.”

Or just click on this thing:

But let’s be honest.

This isn’t a serendipity engine for you.

It’s for me.

So as I watch the traffic on my blog get inflated by friends and followers mashing the “random” button today, I tried it myself, and took a tour through the forgotten, irrelevant, and abandoned ideas archived on my blog. (There’s also some good ones mixed in there if this thing’s working right. Right?)

It’s an amusing five-year time-travel tour.

Here, I’m enthusiastic about Skype. There, I’m done writing about media for a while. Here, I’m hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains, spotting a coyote. There, I’m in Caracas on New Year’s Eve. Here, I’m writing about freemium business models. There, nytimes.com added social network sharing icons to their stories. Here, I’m celebrating Tom Delay’s indictment. There, my daughter is born. Here, I’m at a conference. There, I’m unimpressed with San Francisco.

It goes on like that. Does Flickr have a button that shows me something random from my own photostream? I’d probably like that.

Five

When I started this blog, in my first week as a Mass Communications graduate student at San Jose State, it was hosted at Blogspot, and it was anonymous. That lasted for about a month.

Pretty quickly, I signed up for a free WordPress instance at Blogsome, where I enjoyed a bit more freedom to learn html and css by fiddling with the files in the WP admin. It was ryansholin.blogsome.com, and I’m pretty sure that was the point where I started calling it “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog.”

Straightforward enough, right?

Of the early posts I’ve preserved, the earliest in my archives, dated February 1, 2005, was about Steve Sloan’s visit to an undergrad-level journalism class I was taking, which I believe was called something along the lines of Internet Information Gathering. Steve talked about podcasting, and smiled when I mentioned I was subscribed to a few RSS feeds as Firefox live bookmarks. Wonkette was probably on my list, and PressThink, maybe Scripting News, and possibly Romenesko.

Nine days later I got Scobleized, and that pretty much changed everything.

By the end of the semester I was taking notes at online journalism panels and blogging them as fast as I could, and Chuck Olsen said that blogs were people (Soylent Green, style, though) and I got it.

That summer, my Web-savvy mom gave me ryansholin.com as a present, and I switched over to a hosted WordPress installation of my own, beginning a cycle of design, redesign, and play.

But mostly, there was a lot of blogging. A lot of ideas. A few kneejerk reactions. Some commentary on technology. Some hopes for the future.

When I was in journalism school, I blogged a lot about what I thought journalism schools should do.

When I worked for a newspaper, I blogged a lot about what I thought newspapers should do.

When I worked for a media company, dealing with hundreds of newspapers, I realized every single one of them was different, and trying to tell any of them what they should do was a Sisyphean task of very heavy-duty proportions, and moreso, a bit silly.

I learned to take everything I had picked up about the business of news and apply it in each given situation, instead of writing manifestos about What Newspapers Should Do.

But to rewind a bit, in the middle of 2007 when I worked at a newspaper, I wrote a blog post, slowly, over the course of a few weeks, and posted it at just the right moment on just the right day, and thousands of people read it.

10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head is still the most popular thing on this blog. It’s certainly possible (and probably, given the numbers in play) that one of the Sunday centerpieces I wrote for the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers in the Bay Area in the summer of 2006 was read by more people (the first few grafs, anyway). Likely, in fact. But it was extremely satisfying to see 10,000 page views on my blog post in a day.

Pointing out the obvious to an audience that might not have spotted it yet and then repeating myself over and over again has become, shall we say, my thing.

Occasionally this thought makes me flash back to a conversation with a political science professor who explained why he used so much repetition in his lectures. He said he kept bringing the important concepts up again and again, iterating his presentation of them, using different examples, drawing different diagrams, all in an effort to make sure everyone in the room who was going to understand it, understood it. He gauged reactions with eye contact and good questions, and if he saw too many blank stares, he’d push through the idea in yet another way, or come back to it next week, approaching it from a different angle.

For those of you keeping score, this blog has been instrumental in getting every full-time job I’ve had in the news business. You don’t get to act like someone who has ideas unless there’s some evidence of your ideas out there in the wild.

So as this blog turns five years old and starts asking for bigger and better toys when we go to the store, I must admit I have a few urges.

One is to take my old “Ryan Sholin on the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education” tagline and chop off the prepositional section so it’s just me talking about the future. Of anything. And everything. I’ll do it soon, but you know I’ll keep talking about news and newspapers and publishing and reporting.

The second is to redesign again. It’s been awhile, believe it or not. I’ll get around to it.

But mostly, I’m just going to keep pushing myself to write a bit more here, as per my New Year’s resolution.

Thanks for reading.

Blog posts I have written and not written this year

Hey, would ya look at that, the year’s almost over. And while I’m not the biggest fan of arbitrary divisions of time, I sure do like making lists.

Year-end lists are little nuggets of candy that fall from the sky like sweet, sweet hail, and every now and then, it’s the end of a decade, and people really go nuts with all the listing, and — naturally — the lists of lists.

As for me, I’m going to keep this post squarely focused on just two lists.

Posts I haven’t written yet, but promise to get to soon, really, honest

  • That thing about the coming link economy. Wait, did I write that? Not really. Let’s just say this: If you spend time as a journalist digging up information online, finding valuable links to pass along to your readers and followers, adding context and reference to what we think of as the conventional “news,” then I think there’s some money in it for you. Not just PageRank. Not just whuffie.
  • “Why I enjoy casually copy editing Wikipedia.” I do. And that’s an actual title from an abandoned draft post sitting in my WordPress install. I think it says a lot about the future of annotations and corrections that I can correct things like spelling and punctuation in Wikipedia without thinking about it too much, or jumping through any hoops at all related to my identity. It plays right into my desire to copy edit the world as I move through it. If I can’t carry around a black marker and play apostrophe police, at least I can fix Wikipedia.
  • Hyperlocal is made of people. Seems obvious, but a lot of people seem to think it’s about software, or a business model, or user-generated content. Any version of those three items can and will work, but if you don’t have wildly passionate journalists, developers, salespeople, all three, or one person who does all three jobs, you’re not going to get very far. It used to be enough just to have a great idea for a news project. Then, you had to answer the inevitable question, “Sure, sounds great, but what’s the business model?” Now, even if you can answer that, people will ask you “But will it scale?” As if your success isn’t valid unless everyone else can succeed by following exactly the same path as you. See why I haven’t written this one yet? I’ve been on all sides of this argument in the last few years, and I plan to stay there.

The most popular posts here at Invisible Inkling this year

  1. The difference between Facebook friends and Twitter friends: Something pithy that StumbleUpon users seem to really love, a lot.
  2. 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head: Still my most popular blog post ever. Pretty sure most of it still makes sense.
  3. 10 little white lies you hear about the future of newspapers: Wrote this in the middle of the Great Paywall Debate of early 2009. And it shows.
  4. New York Times on e-paper: This is from 2006. Search engines love it.
  5. Five Keys to Authenticity: Probably the post I put the most thought into this year, even if some of it was while I was hacking up phlegm en route to a talk in Pittsburgh on the topic. Following those five pieces of advice really are key to sounding like the human being you are, when you’re engaging with readers (or customers, for that matter) in what I’ll agnostically call “social media channels.”
  6. My advice to journalism students: This list goes to 6 because this post is right behind ‘Five Keys’ in pageviews. I’ve been giving unsolicited advice to journalism schools, faculty, and students since I started blogging, moments after starting a graduate program at San Jose State’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication.

Thank you

Whether you’re reading this because you’re an avid subscriber of this blog via RSS, or you just keep it open in IE6 and hit refresh once a month, or because you follow me on Twitter, or because you see this posted automagically as a Facebook note, or because someone retweeted it after I tweeted a self-referencing tweet linking to it, or because your journalism professor made you subscribe to this blog months ago, I want to say thank you.

It’s been a fun year. (New job, new town, bigger kid, fun travels, awards, a diploma, new friends, etc.)

So, thanks.

How I share: A tour of my personal linking behavior

Things you may have noticed about me in recent days, weeks, months, or years:

  1. I don’t write blog posts as often as I used to.
  2. I share links all over the place, and I have for a long time now.
  3. I have a new job that involves a lot of thinking about best practices for journalists who link to content they don’t produce themselves.

With those three things as givens, what follows is an exploration of how I share links.  If I ramble off on some tangent, feel free to jump in and stop me. [Sidenote: You can’t jump in.  Is there a WordPress plugin for paragraph-by-paragraph commenting yet?]

Let’s start with a list of links to all the places I share lists of links, and a brief explanation of what sort of links I share there:

Google Reader (shared items)

reader

I subscribe to hundreds of RSS feeds and scan, peruse, pore over, or otherwise read and digest blog posts, search results, news, video, photos, and sundry other hunks of content using Google Reader.  I do this using a Web browser (Firefox, most of the time) or an iPhone.  If I’m using my phone, I’ll often hit the “Share” link, but rarely “Share with note,” which means when I’m on the move, I’m not able to add much value to the links I share.  Sometimes, I add commentary to the shared link later, using FriendFeed.  Those of you who subscribe to my Shared Items feed or who are my friends in Google Reader itself aren’t seeing that commentary, but it shows up on FriendFeed, which in turn shows up in the sidebar of my blog.

Anything I read most of in Google Reader, or that I click through to read the comments on, or comment on, or think is worth sharing, not knowing if everyone else is reading the same things I am, I share.

Twitter

twitter

As of this writing, more than 2200 people follow me on Twitter.  That’s a lot more than read my blog’s RSS feed, far more than follow me on FriendFeed, and way more than the few people that see my Google Reader shared links in their own reader.  But it’s very temporary.  A link on Twitter has a short half-life.  It’s not a way to permanently save anything, but it is a way to get news out quickly.  If I think something is useful enough right now at this second, or if I think it’s good enough to pass along to 2200+ people without more than 100 characters of commentary, off it goes, URL shortened by bit.ly or (in a recent experiment to compare data presentation) tr.im.

I also retweet links from people I follow, especially if I think their base of followers and mine are especially divergent, if it’s an urgent call to action, if their commentary was particular funny, or if I really want to share the link, but I’m mobile, and hitting the RT button in Twitterfon is the easiest way to get the job done.

Delicious

delicious

When I started using Delicious, the first thing I did was post my own content there, tagging it in the hopes that someone would be subscribed to the tag, and would click through on my post.  I didn’t really get it.  Then, for a long time, I used Delicious as a linkblog, saving whatever I found interesting from around the Web, tagging it, and not really worrying about whether the content was temporary, immediately useful, or something to save for reference.

Now, my Delicious stream is pretty sparse, populated pretty exclusively by pages that I want to save for reference on a certain topic.  When it’s time to screw around with Django, I bang on my Django links in Delicious.

Publish2

p2lj

Of course, my new job at Publish2 is one of the reasons I’m spending time thinking about my admittedly edge-case-ish linking behavior.  Right now, I’m using Publish2 to get a feel for the UI of the bookmarklet, to capture my own feedback as a user, and to pass along links to other places while sharing them in the collaborative space in the newswire at the Publish2 site and the feeds it builds for every tag.  You can find my Publish2 links in the sidebar of my blog, and on FriendFeed.  What you might not know is that I’ve been routing some to Twitter, too, using one of the cooler features of the bookmarklet.  (Of course, if you’re interested in how your newsroom can use Publish2 to do the same, just ask me.)

In fully functioning blog posts, every now and then.

Like what you’re reading.  I’ve been writing pretty sparingly on my own blog lately, but over the last four years it’s been a handy place to post thoughts both short and long when I see something elsewhere that inspires, offends, or otherwise jerks me into action.

FriendFeed

ff

FriendFeed serves a variety of purposes for my linking habit.

First, it’s a catchall for everything I share online.  Twitter, Google Reader, Delicious, Publish2, my blog, my posts on IdeaLab, my Flickr photos, my favorite YouTube videos, Disqus comments, my Netflix queue — all of this shows up in my stream at FriendFeed and gets routed to the sidebar of my blog.  So everything I share online flows through my blog’s pages, providing complementary content, links, and proof of my existence in the long temporal gaps between posts.

The second thing I use FriendFeed for is to directly share links.  I end up using FriendFeed to share links that I find through Twitter, or links to full posts from partial text feeds (boo!) in Google Reader, or links to things I click on while reading posts in Google Reader, and it turns out the linked item is more interesting than the post that brought me there, and if you’re lucky I’ll remember how I got there and throw a “via” in. 

Wild card: If something I’m reading, anywhere, has an interesting image I want to share, I’ll use FriendFeed for that link so I can plant the picture in my blog’s sidebar.

There’s a third, social, function to FriendFeed, and that happens directly on the site or on my iPhone.  It’s me, mashing the “like” button on a regular basis.  That’s not exactly a way to share links, and neither is adding comments on other people’s links, but it’s something I do there.

So what?

So, nothing.  Just thought I’d share.  This is the part where I say, “How do you share?”

If I had the time, I would write about Digital Sunlight, Bring a Professor Night, and BarCamp NewsInnovation

  • Publish2 begins a Digital Sunlight campaign, encouraging citizen journalists to contribute information about stimulus spending to a pool of coverage.
  • Next Sunday is “Bring A Professor Night” at CollegeJourn, a new-ish weekly live chat about the state of student media and j-school.
  • BarCamp NewsInnovation is growing quickly, and about as distributed as can be expected, with upcoming events in Chicago and Portland on this Saturday and Miami on Sunday.  (I’ll be at the national wrap-up of these in Philadelphia, April 25.)

Every time I wave the “oh, my, I’m afraid I don’t have much time to blog these days” flag I end up writing six posts in a day, but just in case I don’t follow through this time, consider that flag waved.  However, keep in mind, the real hip-hop is over there.  There, in this case, being my Friendfeed stream, where you can find all my pithy little commentary and benefit from my habitual oversharing of useful linkery.

(Oh, and if you really want to know which side project is keeping me busy these days, check out what I wrote for IdeaLab a few days ago: ReportingOn is Back in the Lab.)

Minor redesign of this here blog

I’ve been whittling away at this at random hours in between 642 other small projects, so feel free to click through and have a look at my handiwork.

Major goals of this minor redesign included:

  • Play with the header graphic. (Done.)
  • Fix the FriendFeed stream and make it useful. (Done.)
  • Clean things up, remove some widget bloat, figure out a better way to present that sort of thing. (Sort of done.)
  • Do all this in Django for fun and sport. (Not even close. Still WordPress, which I still enjoy, and built on the Sandbox theme as it has been for years now.)

There’s also a bit of BIGness to everything, much of which I advise you to blame on Wilson Miner, though I haven’t a fraction of his skill at this sort of thing.

I’m sure I’ll continue to fiddle with the sidebar and bottom bits for days to come, so don’t grow accustomed to any of this if you’re some sort of person who often reads this thing in a manner that doesn’t involve your RSS reader or phone.  No idea who you people are.

Things to do…

Now that I’m back from vacation, here’s what’s on my to-do list for, uh, the foreseeable future:

  • Finish developing the pre-alpha version of ReportingOn and launch it.  Like, really, really soon.
  • Go to SND/APME next week, speak on Sunday, go to some awesome sessions and pimp ReportingOn to every editor I meet.
  • Write the first draft of my graduate school project report regarding ReportingOn.
  • Get someone to redesign Wired Journalists, or run a contest inviting users to edit their own theme and submit it.  The winner gets, um, a prize of some sort, and all sorts of link love.
  • Think about developing a Wired Journalists job board.  Seems like there are plenty of spots to place ads for generic news jobs, but nowhere to place an ad for a high-end online news job somewhere frequented by the best in their class… This could be profitable, yes?  Authentic Jobs is the model.
  • Put up another baby gate or two. The kid loves practicing her walking with my help.
  • Write much more for Idealab.
  • Do something interesting with a domain I bought recently: newstangle.com.
  • Talk with Canon and other companies about sponsoring Wired Journalists so we have some gear to give away by the end of the year.  Let me know if you’re interested in getting involved.  (In giving stuff away, that is.)
  • Move this blog to Django and redesign it, adding a hardcore linkblog element instead of aggregating it from the cloud.

So what’s on your list?

Unscheduled downtime

“Sometimes, you eat the bar. And sometimes, the bar eats you.”

And sometimes, something blows up at a data center in Houston and your cool new Web host has all its servers shut down for 36 hours while fires are quite literally put out and power is restored.

I imagine things might be up and down here today if they have any problems keeping the power on where the database behind ryansholin.com physically resides.

And yes, thanks to WebFaction and The Planet for keeping their customers well informed while they work their butts off getting all those servers back online.

Server shuffle

I’ve moved this here blog and most everything else at ryansholin.com, reportingon.com, and a domain to be named later off to WebFaction ‘s servers.

So far, so good. WebFaction support is already impressive, hitting me up with detailed instructions on how to easily import my WordPress database using ssh.  (Yes, I used the command line.  Be proud of me.)

That said, forgive me if I haven’t had time yet to get all my static files in place, and your DNS may vary, so if something doesn’t ring up quite right the first time, just bang on your favorite refresh button.

Thanks for your patience, pardon our dust, mind the gap, etc.