Where we write, where we blog, where we share

Yes, this is going to be one of the posts where the person writing says something along the lines of: “Gee, I don’t really blog much anymore. You should follow me on Twitter.”

Sorry about that in advance.

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to “write more, but not here,” where “here” equalled Twitter.

Didn’t really happen.

Efforts to blog every day trailed off and failed, and in all honesty, I’ve had plenty of good excuses, given the busy-ness of buying a house, having another kid, and switching jobs, in that order.

When I started this blog, in its first incarnation, days after starting grad school, I followed a simple formula that lasted for a long time: Read blogs, link to them, react to them. I’ve done some original writing from time to time, sure, but so much of what I think of as “blogging” is about the read-link-react/debate/dispute/fisk space.

And that’s fine and good and necessary and conversational.

But I do most of that on Twitter these days.

And when it comes to sharing personal stuff (we moved! we had a kid! we bought the house!), most of that lives on Facebook, where I have more control (believe it or not) over who sees what.

Throw Foursquare and Instagram into the mix — and for legacy photo sharing from my dSLR workflow, Flickr — and I’m able to pretty selectively share what I’m doing, what it looks like, who I’m with, and how I feel about it.

So what’s this blog for?

I suppose its best remaining purpose is as a professional-looking archive of everything I’m thinking about next. More about the future, less about the present. Not engaging in the daily volleys of what passes for current future-of-news events (Wikileaks, #3 on your list is wrong/right/different, it’s a paywall/not a paywall, etc.) but writing now and then about the advances and movements in media and technology that seem to be just past the horizon.

That’s a goal, anyway. I won’t call it a resolution, but it’s a direction.

Now if I could just find some time to write…

…or maybe you should just follow me on Twitter.

Five

When I started this blog, in my first week as a Mass Communications graduate student at San Jose State, it was called “Big Silver Robot,” 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.

Street by street, block by block

Back in the early days of grad school, when questions about the future of online advertising came up, I was bullish about the future of location-based mobile advertising that would by contextually relevant to the content you were viewing and the place you were sitting.

I was wrong about a big piece of how this would work: I envisioned free wireless access blanketing the world, so that you could be sitting on a bench in downtown Santa Cruz with your laptop and find out, while reading a story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s food section, that Lulu Carpenter’s had a deal on day-old pastries right now.

This was pre-iPhone, and the most “super” mobile device I had at hand was a bottom of the line half-sausage sized thing from Verizon.

Now, that next step for local advertisers looking to capture walk-in business from real live human beings in their neighborhood is becoming far more clear.

Foursquare and Gowalla, location-based services you should be well aware of by now, are already getting into this business, opening up the market.

Here’s the “anatomy of a Foursquare special” as broken down by Cory Bergman at Lost Remote:

“Clicking over to the special reveals a useful offer for a free drink with a $20 purchase — if you show that you’ve checked in from the restaurant.”

Keep in mind, a note about a “nearby special” shows up in Foursquare next to the name of the business when you’re casually browsing nearby places, or checking in at the competition across the street.

Over at VentureBeat, a look at iPromote, a company building a mobile ad network to allow local businesses to advertise to anyone who happens to walk by:

“For a minimum of $5 per day, iPromote will serve ads to mobile phones near an advertiser’s place of business. The company serves both display ads, for which clicks aren’t counted, and cost-per-click ads where the advertiser only pays when a user clicks through an ad to their site.”

Sounds like a healthy model.

Of course, there’s a disruptive elephant-sized gorilla in the room named Google.

Push a button on your phone and Google tells you what’s nearby. As in, local businesses, restaurants, etc. How long before they start selling featured listings based on geography? Want to be the featured one-dollar-sign, four-star restaurant within a fixed square mile? That’ll cost ya…

Here’s the short list of location-based mobile apps on my iPhone right now:

  • Foursquare – Mostly using this these days when I’m at a restaurant or otherwise non-routine location. Especially useful when I was in New York City over New Year’s.
  • Gowalla – Trying it out. It’s cuter than Foursquare, but I don’t see how it’s any more or less useful yet.
  • Yelp – I still use Yelp on my phone whenever I’m in a strange city and just want to know where the nearest Thai, Vegetarian, or Burrito  joint can be found.
  • UrbanSpoon – Cute slot machine interface, but nothing special.
  • Brightkite – I used to check in here socially, as I way to declare when I arrived in a new town for a conference. More for social check-ins than local business action, and I haven’t checked it in months.
  • EveryBlock – Might be fun to check the restaurant inspections, Flickr photos, or crime reports here while walking down a block, but I haven’t.
  • Honorable mentions on my phone for Redfin and Zillow — both real estate apps extremely useful when househunting, especially when you just want to know what’s for sale near your current location, while you’re cruising around checking out neighborhoods.

Have any favorite location apps that I’m missing? Are any local news organizations selling their own location-based mobile ads, or just buying into larger networks?

We are all technologists now

A company launches a new phone, or is rumored to likely be planning to launch a fancy tablet computer, or a new browser, or upgrading its mobile data network, and thousands (millions?) of us have something to say about it.

Really?

What do we know about technology, business, strategy, and the machinations of multinational corporations?

A lot, apparently, judging by our visceral reactions, emotions, and excitement about every new shiny object released into the technosphere.

Over at Media Decoder, David Carr says “We are all gadget nerds now,” focusing on the way technology has driven the production of culture in recent years:

“Longtime players in the media space have been struggling to come to grips with an era in which the consumers serve as their own programmers. And now, the rapid rate of hardware innovation is metastasizing the trend, putting smaller, more powerful tools in their hands, leaving producers of all manner of software — not just the coded kind, but movies, novels, pop songs, magazine articles — struggling to format their content in way that pleases consumers and still provides a way to make a living.”

And he’s right, but I’d like to see some analysis of, say, the evolution of personal technology from 1984 to 2009, with the intention of identifying the key moments where it leapt not just into our everyday lives as users, but into our everyday conversations as amateur pundits.

Of course, I suppose when fire was discovered, early humans were pretty psyched about that, too, and said so.

About that resolution

Funny thing about writing is that it used to be much easier.

Somewhere around 1991, I became one of those kids who didn’t have their textbook with them in class, but always had a spiral-bound notebook with all sorts of strange numbers and notations on the covers, and nothing but my guts spilled inside, in free verse or prose or illogical proofs, or somehow critically important diagrams that outlined everything my teenage self knew about life.

And the notebooks piled up over the next 10 years, because it was so simple to write, for myself, by myself, in one form factor or another.

But now… Oh, now…

Here’s a short list of things I did before I finally started writing this post:

  1. Started thinking about writing more.
  2. Tweeted New Year’s Resolution about writing more.
  3. Considered Posterous, Tumblr, or a new WordPress blog as possible vessels for “writing more,” which has now earned quotes for itself as it becomes a concept off in the distance instead of a concrete thing I might actually do.
  4. Considered writing a blog post here along the lines of “hey, I might start writing more here about other stuff and less about journalism, because really, I think there’s just about enough of that going around.”
  5. Considered redesigning blog first.
  6. Thought better of it.
  7. Got up this morning, made coffee, etc., fiddled with my superphone checking email, Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook.
  8. Opened the laptop, checked more email, found the above tweet, took a screenshot, got annoyed with laptop, restarted it.
  9. Software Update.
  10. Your MacBook must be connected to a power source to continue.
  11. Opened up WordPress. Distracted by unusually high traffic to this blog’s homepage yesterday.
  12. Fruitless, half-assed investigation of traffic.
  13. Upgraded plugins.
  14. Upgraded WordPress.
  15. Started writing.

Just 15 steps.

Writing more is easy!

Probably related: Go listen to Merlin Mann talk about the perils of getting hung up on getting started. Wait a minute, maybe you shouldn’t click on that link. Maybe you should just… y’know… Start.