We’re visiting my sister-in-law and her family in the Hudson Valley region of New York State this weekend. We squeezed in a little side trip to Beacon, a small city about 60 miles north of New York City.
It’s interesting place. It played a role in the Revolutionary War. (The name “Beacon” refers to the signal fires that were set on a nearby mountain summit to warn of British troop movements.) It later evolved into a manufacturing city. When manufacturing dried up, it fell on hard times for a while. In the late 1990s, it reinvented itself as an arts haven, including the transformation of a former Nabisco box-printing facility into a major contemporary art museum.
The main drag has a number of funky murals, including the pictured “Songs of the Hudson,” painted by Nestor Madalengoitia in 2007.
On this first Micro Monday, I’ll note that Micro.blog has a better @jack than Twitter.
Liza Goldberg talked her way into NASA at age 14. Now, at age 16, she’s working on significant research.
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to watch me after school. Since my grandparents only had one car, we would drive into downtown New Bedford, Mass. to pick up my grandfather from work at the end of the day.
We would park and wait for him next to a lighthouse. It wasn’t a real lighthouse. It was a miniature lighthouse in the middle of a downtown business district. I learned years later that it was built as part of the New Deal. I heard once that a guy used to sit up there and point out where the open parking spaces were. That didn’t happen anymore when I was a kid, but it was still a cool lighthouse.
One day, when I was eight years old, we arrived to find a group of city workers labeling each of the stones that made up the lighthouse in chalk. In the days that followed, they tore it down to make room for a bus terminal.
What a bummer that was.
Sometime later, we were driving into the city’s busiest intersection (known less-than-affectionately as “the Octopus”) and found the city workers sorting through a pile of stones. In the days that followed, they rebuilt the lighthouse in a small park behind the intersection.
They didn’t take my lighthouse away. They turned it into a giant jigsaw puzzle. Awesome!
“I’m just going to do a quick pass before the snow gets too high for the snowblower.”
I set a new personal audiobook record by completing The Power Broker, which clocked in at a whopping 66 hours and 11 minutes. I feel like I should be awarded a master of city planning degree now.
In November, I wrote a post about my post-Twitter news consumption workflow. Less than two months later, I cringe at how comically over-engineered it was. It served a purpose. I got over my Twitter news FOMO. But I was still pumping way to much information into my brain every day.
I’ve abandoned pretty much everything I described in my November post. No more RSS feeds from newspaper sites. No more breaking news push notifications. No more email digests. No more Nuzzel.
My current approach is much simpler.
Most newspaper sites update their home pages frequently throughout the day, but many also have a single “Today’s Paper” page with a list of articles from the current day’s print edition tucked away somewhere. I’ve bookmarked three of these pages as Safari favorites.
When I sit down at my desk in the morning, I open Safari and hit ⌘-Option-1 to pop open the day’s edition of The Boston Globe. I scroll down a single web page and right click to open anything that looks vaguely interesting into a new browser tab. I then hit ⌘-Option-2 and repeat the process the day’s edition of The New York Times. Lastly, I hit ⌘-Option-3 and repeat for The Washington Post.
This sounds like a lot, but it takes me less than five minutes to do this initial triage by scrolling down three self-contained web pages. I also try to be fairly selective, so I end up with fewer than 10 article tabs open most days.
As I go through my article tabs, there are generally at least a few articles that I skim quickly and decide not to read. I read most of the others in the moment. If there are longer pieces that I don’t have time to read in the morning, I will sometimes send them to my Kindle (using the excellent Push to Kindle Safari extension) to read in the evening. But I try to be pretty selective about this. After all, current events aren’t the best way to unwind these days.
I’m pretty happy with this approach. By focusing on the “Today’s Paper” pages rather than using RSS feeds or checking news site home pages throughout the day, I cut down the noise and avoid derailing my thought process during the workday with weighty or disturbing news.
The whole process usually takes me less than 20 minutes over coffee in the morning, but it allows me to feel engaged with current events without overwhelming my mind.
I’m on my second attempt, and once again I’m struggling to get through the second half of Deep Work. If you’ve read it, I’m curious whether you found useful insights in the second half once you got the general concept.
A few years ago, I completed a “Project 365”, taking and sharing one photo per day for a year. I was a beginner at using a “real camera” at the time, and the push to take a decent photo every day really helped me improve my skills. But there were downsides to the daily cadence as well. I always had to be thinking about the next photo, so I never found the time to work on more advanced shooting and editing techniques.
I’m going to see if I can achieve the best of both worlds this year by attempting a weekly photo challenge. I considered following the Dogwood Photography prompts, but I decided to keep it simple and do my own thing.
Each week, I’ll simply take a photograph of a place that I like or find interesting. Along with the photo, I’ll include some words about why the place is significant to me, as well any shooting or editing techniques I worked on during the week.
Hopefully, this approach will apply just enough pressure to get me out with my camera regularly, while also giving me enough breathing room to have fun and develop my skills.
Feel free to play along if you’d like, either with the “fifty-two places” theme or your own subject matter.
A Christmas Story
I just clicked to unsubscribe from an email list, and the unsubscribe web page it landed me on asked for Safari push notification permissions. 🤦🏻♂️
Famously, it was an event, South by Southwest 2007, that put Twitter on the map. But even before that, the early Twitter team was trying to use events, raves more specifically, to sign up early users.
It didn’t go well.
An excerpt from Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton:
It wasn’t how the grand public launch of Twitter was supposed to end up: Jack in the hospital at around 2:00 A.M., covered in blood, and Noah, Ray, and a few others still dancing at a rave a few blocks away. But in hindsight, it was as predictable as nightfall that the public debut of this tiny social start-up would end this way.
So, this is yet another case in which @manton should not follow Jack Dorsey’s playbook. But, as I mentioned in my earlier post about diversifying the Micro.blog user base, I think in-person events are a great use case for drawing a more diverse set of users into Micro.blog.
There are existing tools that serve the events market, such as white-label event apps and established social networks like Twitter. But I don’t think any of the current tools meet the needs of event organizers or attendees particularly well.
The event-specific apps at most events I’ve attended have been fairly poor. Their usefulness is often limited to easy access to the event schedule. They don’t bring the event topics to life or help me connect with my fellow attendees. Most attendees probably don’t even bother to install them. And they certainly don’t forge any connections among event attendees that persist beyond the end of the event.
I have seen Twitter used effectively at some events, but there are some significant limitations:
- Participation is limited to the subset of event attendees that are already active Twitter users
- Twitter dialogue at the events is generally fairly shallow: quick pictures or quotes of what speakers are saying
- Abuse and harassment, already of major concern to event managers, are amplified by Twitter
It would be an interesting experiment to work with some event organizers to incorporate Micro.blog accounts into their event registration packages. Prior to the event, each attendee could be prompted to sign up for an account that includes a few months of Micro.blog hosting, as well as the option to connect the account to an existing blog. Participation could be a billed as central to the event experience — a way connect with speakers and participants to get the most out of the event.
A week or two before the event, organizers and speakers could introduce themselves on Micro.blog, prompt attendees to do the same, and encourage people to share thoughts on what they are hoping to get out of the event. Micro.blog’s pin / gamification functionality could be adapted for the event, providing a way for event organizers to encourage attendees to engage in substantive discussion. Ideally, some of this dialogue will spawn ad hoc in-person meet-ups at the event and help people attending alone make social connections.
Some attendees will likely wind down their Micro.blog usage after the event. But it’s likely that in some cases Micro.blog activity at events will evolve into lasting online micro-communities.
A benefit of this use case for Micro.blog itself is that it could be a way to diversify the user population quickly. A concerted effort could be made to prioritize partnerships with events that cater to populations that are under-represented on Micro.blog. And then each event could be followed by promotion of the benefits of participating in the broader Micro.blog community in addition to staying engaged with the event cohort.
I think the approach would appeal to event organizers as well. It adds a whole new dimension to the event experience. Everyone starts on an equal footing, and a code of conduct has been thoughtfully considered in advance. A simple, per-user pricing model would also make it accessible to smaller events without the budget to license and customize a white-label event app.
As with the micro-communities use case, there are likely some Micro.blog feature enhancements necessary to support an events model. At a minimum, there would need to be some method of connecting Micro.blog activity that is focused on a particular event. It’s possible that hashtag support, as contemplated in my micro-communities post, could meet this need as well. The ability for event organizers to create a set of event-specific Micro.blog pins would be a “nice to have” feature as well.
There are likely higher short-term priorities than tooling Micro.blog up to support in-person events. But as the platform grows and matures, I think it’s a great use case to keep in mind as a way to diversify the community quickly and make events more fun.
In a previous post about diversifying the Micro.blog community, I mentioned “micro-communities” as one of a few possible use cases that could expand Micro.blog’s appeal to a broader audience. By micro-communities, I was referring to loosely connected groups of people who connect online to share a common interest or life experience.
It’s a use case that might be temping to dismiss as a stretch for Micro.blog. After all, online groups already gather in many different places: email lists, IRC channels, forums, ad hoc groups in messaging apps, Slack workspaces fashioned into topical groups, and, of course, Facebook.
But there is something about an informal collection of independent blogs by people with a shared passion that makes for a much better micro-community experience than social networks or other online group platforms. I’ve experienced this first-hand with a couple of blogging communities I’ve participated in: an informal network of blogs by adoptive parents and the pen and paper enthusiast blog community.
Some of the advantages I’ve found with micro-communities comprised of independent blogs are:
- Blog posts are generally written with more thought and pride of ownership than drive-by group posts (and subsequent drive-by reactions)
- While anyone can show up to a group and broadcast their thoughts to everyone, it’s possible to tightly control which blogs are deserving of your attention without closing yourself off to new voices
- The act of commenting on someone’s blog or responding with a blog post of your own is a much richer interaction than most social media or online group exchanges
Micro.blog can magnify these advantages. In particular, the experience of using blog commenting functionality sucks. The process of managing comments on your own blog also sucks.
Micro.blog shifts these interactions into a more enjoyable, lower-friction format. I guess you could argue that it’s just as easy to post a drive-by garbage comment into Micro.blog as it is into a Facebook group comment. But the dynamic seems very different so far, which I think its owed to the fact that Micro.blog interactions are extensions of blogs. If you took the time to create a blog, you likely take some pride in it. Posting garbage on Micro.blog is like dumping garbage on your front lawn. It just doesn’t feel right.
Micro.blog does need some additional functionality before it can serve the needs of micro-communities well, most notably a method for people with shared interests to find each other and stay engaged.
Hashtag support in the most obvious approach that comes to mind. There are many social networks where hashtags aren’t particularly useful, but I think Instagram comes the closest to getting it right. There seem to be true communities centered around hashtags there. For example, the cat people and the bookworms are very easy to find.
Instagram’s new capability to follow hashtags is also intriguing. But I think Micro.blog can take a concept like this so much farther. Instagram is a broadcast and react platform, while Micro.blog is a far superior vehicle for two-way or multi-party conversations.
Whether it’s a hashtag model or a new approach or some kind, a method of connecting micro-communities could draw in a diverse population of users. Finding, joining, and participating in micro.blog requires some effort and expense. But making it the best destination for people to enjoy their passions and make new connections with people who share them will provide the necessary incentive.
I just finished The Taking of K-129 by Josh Dean. It’s the true story of the CIA’s audacious 1970s-era project to recover a Soviet submarine wreck from 16,800 miles below the ocean surface without tipping the Russians (or general public) off to what was going on. It reads like an adventure novel, complete with secret alliances with Howard Hughes and seemingly impossible engineering challenges. 👍
Freshly minted green belt.
It’s fascinating how many old school companies are jumping in with big Tesla Semi orders.
Here are a few of my favorite observations from Micro.blog this week:
It was a big week for documentary-style microblogs. Ryan Runs, a microblog focused on marathon training, was an early example of this approach. Last weekend, Ryan successfully completed his first marathon! It was really interesting to follow along through the ups and downs of his journey, and it was fun to see many fellow microbloggers cheer him on and offer congratulations. Congrats Ryan!
Lyft Shifts, a newer microblog that documents the experience of being a Lyft driver, gained some momentum this week. If, like me, you’re one of those people who peppers your Lyft (yay!) or Uber (boo!) drivers with questions about the ins and outs of ridesharing, this account is for you. It’s fascinating to observe the dynamics at play among drivers, riders, and the services themselves.
The New MarsEdit
One big item on the ever-growing list of things I like about Micro.blog is that it gives me an opportunity to use MarsEdit again. (I’m using it to write this post, in fact.) I’ve owned MarsEdit for many years, but I hadn’t been using it as much until recently due to the fact that Squarespace doesn’t support third-party blogging clients.
It was fun to see how much chatter there was on Micro.blog this week about the launch of MarsEdit 4. @manton and @danielpunkass have joked on the “Core Intuition” podcast that they are technically competitors now, since both MarsEdit and the Micro.blog Mac app can be used to post to Wordpress and Micro.blog-hosted sites.
But this is another great example of how “official” apps and third-party apps can both thrive. I love using the Micro.blog Mac app for checking my timeline and publishing quick posts and replies. But I much prefer MarsEdit for longer posts. There are also certain things that are literally only possible on Micro.blog-hosted sites with MarsEdit, like viewing a live preview before publishing, saving drafts, and creating posts with alternating text and photos. I’m also finding MarsEdit really useful for making clean-up edits to some older posts I migrated over from Squarespace.
I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with music discovery and really enjoy seeing music-related conversations and recommendations on Micro.blog. These are continuing to pop up regularly, and I’ve particularly loved the cases where people have served up Apple Music playlist links that I could check out with a couple of taps.
Possibly the most Boston news lede ever:
Former state senator Brian A. Joyce was charged in a federal indictment Friday with using his Senate office as a front to collect about $1 million in bribes and kickbacks that were laundered through his law firm, along with getting hundreds of pounds of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for free. (The Boston Globe)
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