As a co-founder of Blogger and Twitter and, more recently, as the chief executive of the digital publishing platform Medium, Mr. Williams transformed the way millions of people publish and consume information online.
But as his empire grew, he started to get a gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right. High-quality publishers were losing out to sketchy clickbait factories. Users were spending tons of time on social media, but they weren’t necessarily happier or better informed. Platforms built to empower the masses were rewarding extremists and attention seekers instead.
Finding time to blog is tough, and while I enjoy putting together the Five for Friday posts, you may have noticed that even doing those is tricky.
To get myself back into the habit of regularly posting, I’m going to have a go at splitting the idea of Five for Friday up, posting the links and short commentary on them individually, as I come across them.
This hopefully will mean I don’t have the burden (!) of trying to find five every week, or having to edit a bunch of stuff in one go. Instead, I can do it piecemeal as I see things I find interesting.
I’ve always enjoyed the way John Gruber posts to his linked list and I guess this is a similar thing for me to do.
I’ll categorise all the posts as reading list, and also add the [RL] prefix to post titles to highlight what they are. I’ll also find a way to send a bunch out via email (which you can sign up for here) – which people have said they find useful in the past. As always, most stuff ends up on Pinboard and Twitter too.
It’s another Friday, so here are five links (and associated background reading!) that I have found interesting in the last week.
Before we dig into that, a personal note. I’m shortly to leave my current employer, and whilst my next major gig is almsot confirmed, I am going to have a day or so free from the middle of August onwards to do interesting things (preferably paid). If you’ve a tempory, short term Dave-shaped hole to fill, please do get in touch.
- Interesting series of posts by Alan Mather on progress on digital government, focusing on the hits and misses at GDS. It will be worth keeping an eye out for future updates.
- Why we made our platform product open-source – some useful thoughts here from Comic Relief on open sourcing the code they have used to create Drupal based campaign websites. The post outlines some of the issues involved and is well worth a read. There has been a long running (GDS related) discussion about the difference between open source and coding in the open (is just chucking source code online for others to use ‘open source’?) and whilst working in the open in whatever way is generally a good thing, nonetheless code is only useful when you have coders who can do stuff with it, so isn’t always a panacea.
- Matt Jukes is assessing whether there is interest in an event “about blogging. newsletters etc and why they are good for organisations and individuals”. Sounds good to me. More background on why he wants to do it here.
- Tech beyond the market and the state? – really interesting ruminations on ‘civic tech’ from Cassie Robinson, with some nice definitions – including a focus on ‘community tech’: “Where people on their own choose to work together towards a common goal.” Looks like this will be an enquiry well worth following.
- Why large technology programmes fail and what to do instead – of all the things I’ve been responsble for in recent times as a manager of technology teams, getting to grips with the programme of work has been one of the trickiest and I don’t think I’m yet to actually get it licked. However, following some of this advice from Dave Rogers would be a damn good start.
One of the things I love about the internet most is the fact that it puts the power to publish into the hands of pretty much anybody. There are many ways of doing it these days, whether by using a tool like WordPress like I do here – which can be pretty complicated – or perhaps by using Medium, which continues to interest and confuse me in equal measure.
So I was quite excited to come across a really simple thing called publishthis.email which allows anyone to create public webpages by just sending an email.
I immediately got in touch with my friend Lloyd about this, knowing that he shares my enthusiasm for publishing stuff, and also how he really enjoyed using Posterous which did something similar, albeit in a slightly more complicated fashion. Posterous was bought and shut down by Twitter a few years ago.
publishthis.email works in a ridiculously simple fashion. All you do is send an email to email@example.com and a web page is created for you – the link to which sent by return to you. Any formatting in your email is preserved and any pictures you include are uploaded and added to your page.
And… that’s it. There’s nothing more to it and it really is that simple. Oh, except for collections. When you send your email, if you add a + and the name of a collection (basically a group of pages) after page and before the @ in the email address (so, for example, send to firstname.lastname@example.org) a dynamic list of those pages is then created, with its own URL, giving you a very rudimentary blog.
There’s loads missing, like human readable URLs, navigation links between pages and so forth. However, whether they come or not, publishthis.email is potentially really interesting as a way of very quickly getting text and images onto the web to share with others.
It’d be good to hear what folk think about tools like this, and what uses they could be put to.
According to the archive on this site, I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years today – since September 2004.
This is the 2,646th post and there have been 4,263 comments on them over the years.
Lots has changed in that time, personally and professionally. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without having started it.
It’s done three things, I think:
- helped build my profile over the years, creating all sorts of opportunities
- helped me develop my ideas, from the half baked to the barely lukewarm
- helped me build my network of friends and collaborators
There’s a bunch of other bits too, in that I’m sure I must be a better writer now than I was when I started, and eleven years of fiddling with WordPress have taught me a load about technical stuff (mostly to leave well alone).
I’m so grateful for the folk who read this blog and respond, for the occasional kind words of encouragement I get.
On the very odd occasion that folk ask me for advice on getting on the world of digital and/or government, I almost always suggest people start blogging.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue for at least another eleven years.
Bit navel-gazey this post, but bear with me, and I would love your feedback.
So, as mentioned previously, I am looking for a job. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to focus on one thing, and not have the freelancer’s dilemma of always looking for the next thing while doing the current thing.
Trouble is, I have rather a niche set of skills that are pretty hard to fit into any job description that hasn’t been put together with me in mind – and not even I am so arrogant to think that anyone would want to do that.
(Of course, if you do want to do that, please get in touch.)
So, what are the options? One might be to try and build a business, based around a particular product or service. I’ve plenty of ideas for such things, lots of folk I could collaborate with, and am not writing this off at all.
How might that be possible? Well, I’m in a good place tech-wise as this site is now hosted on the Rainmaker platform, a customised hosted version of WordPress which has a load of functionality built in, including a membership scheme that can be charged for, have members-only content, the ability to host podcasts, and to have a members forum.
I’m not currently using much of this but am in the process of moving all the various bits of content I do into the platform.
Currently, my content-creation schedule is haphazard, with me writing posts, recording podcasts and doing other bits and pieces when I can fit it around contract work and other consulting gigs. It all acts basically as a marketing thing, to try and convince people I know what I am talking about so they hire me for more contract and consulting work.
So, what might a business model for this blog look like?
The free stuff
Well, some stuff would still need to be free. Probably the type of blog posts I usually publish at the moment would remain free and accessible to anyone – but if the blog was my main focus, there would be more of them. I find it so hard to blog daily when I am also doing a full time job.
My podcast would also remain free and public for its current form, doing interviews with interesting folk in the digital world. Again though, with the site being my main focus, I could do them much more regularly, whether every month or even weekly.
I’d also like to do more with my bookmarks. Currently they are pinged to Twitter, and I include the best of them in my newsletter (when I remember to send it out). I would like to have a daily link roundup post though on the blog.
Finally, a free weekly email newsletter, done properly and regularly. Having the time to focus on this would make it much easier. I need to find a way to make it easy for people to get the blog content by email, and then also the added value of a newsletter. Maybe I could combine one weekly newsletter which featured some new content, plus links and summaries of all the blog posts that week, plus my bookmarks from that week.
Maybe people could also opt-in to a daily blog posts by email thing as well, if they are super keen.
So, for free: blog posts, podcasts, link roundups, general email newsletter – all doable because the site and the content around it is my primary focus.
I could make this more sustainable by looking for sponsorship for the free, public content, of course. I’d need to find a non-annoying way for that to work, but some people do very well out of it.
Paid for stuff
The sustainable way to make all this happen is to have regular subscription model, with members paying a small monthly fee to both support the free, public content, and to get access to other stuff.
For instance, Ben Thompson charges $10 per month to members, and they get an exclusive email most days with in depth analysis, as well as access to a forum to discuss issues related to Thompson’s writing, which Ben takes part in himself.
So what could I offer to members of this site?
One thing I would probably do would be a weekly longer, in depth piece of writing just for members. Picking a topic of real interest to my readers, and doing a proper piece of research and writing that goes beyond my usual well intentioned but half baked blogging.
I’d probably do an occasional solo podcast as well, discussing a recent news topic that’s worthy of a quick bit of audio. Likewise I would like to do more videos, such as the quick training ones I trialled towards the end of last year, which got some great feedback – those could be members-only.
Adding a discussion forum would be simple – it’s baked into Rainmaker as discussed earlier – and also I already have a community with a good membership and activity on it. Access to that forum is currently free, so I would need to figure out a way for that to continue for those people, otherwise it wouldn’t really be fair.
So, members who pay roughly a tenner a month get a longer, in depth article a week, access to extra podcasts and video training content and the ability to take part in a discussion forum, with other members and me. They also get the warm glow that they are supporting me to produce the freely available, public content too.
Does that sound reasonable? I have no idea, personally.
The other question is how to make it work. How many subscribers would I need?
A hundred subscribers – which, if I am honest, sounds like a lot – would give me an income of £1,000 per month, which is sadly nowhere near enough to keep the Briggs family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not least when you think that there are costs to be taken out of that figure.
If I did sponsorship of the free content, that might be able to pull in £250 a month at the most to begin with – again, not enough.
Of course, what I would need to do then is to make up the deficit by doing contracting and consulting – but perhaps a bit less of it, to enable me to meet my content creation schedule.
Hopefully over time I could build up the membership side of things, enabling me to spend more time writing and sharing great stuff with people, which is what I really love to do.
So, what do you think? Would you pay for a membership to my site in exchange for those rewards?
Or should I just accept that I can’t make a living by blogging, and get back to the job hunt?
One of the things that I love about being a blogger is the encouragement it gives me to write.
It’s fair to say, I think, that if you want to get good at something, then writing about it is a key part of the learning process.
You don’t even have to do it online, or even on a computer. Having a notebook you can put thoughts and reflections down in on a regular basis will do wonders for you in terms of thinking through problems and assessing what you are doing.
If you have an idea for something, making yourself write it down, think about the words you use and how you articulate it, will help you spot what’s good and what’s not so good about it.
As I said, you don’t have to do this on a blog. But there’s an advantage to sharing your writing online.
It adds another level of thinking critically about your writing. Knowing that other people could well be reading makes you think a bit more about each phrase and each sentence. It sanity checks your ideas – if you’re embarrassed to be blogging about it, maybe it’s not such a great solution to your problem.
This obviously works for individuals, but it works for teams too, and organisations. Share with people what you are thinking and what you are doing. Force yourself to articulate it in terms that will be clear to those that are reading them.
It will help improve your work and your understanding – even if nobody else ever reads it.
This year I’ve really got into the content-producing swing of things – dunno if you’ve noticed. With this blog settled down and at home on WordPress.com, my newsletter working nicely thanks to Goodbits, the podcast rumbling along nicely on Libsyn and my Pinboard bookmarks providing even more stuff for people to look at if they need it, the tech and workflow is all slotting together very nicely.
It would be fantastic to be able to just focus on this content creation an curation work. It’s what I really love doing. Figuring a way to make it sustainable though is not easy.
Shawn and Ben both have membership schemes. Their core blogging is available for free, but extra bits – including content via email and podcasts – are members only. Members have to pay a certain amount to get access to it all.
This is a great way of doing things, but you need people willing to pay for your content.
Sponsorship is another way of doing things. John Gruber’s Daring Fireball does this, with the blog’s RSS feed being sponsored every week by a tech company wanting to reach his (many) readers. Gruber charges $9,500 per week for this sponsorship. Wowza!
The other option I guess is what I currently do, which is to use the content creation as a way of promoting my consulting work. The downside of this is that a) the blogging etc is a means rather than an end; and b) that I have to leave the house now and again.
Maybe I should just stop being lazy!
I’m running a day long workshop in London on the topic of blogging – might you be interested?
Here’s the skinny:
Join Dave Briggs for a day’s practical, hands-on workshop learning how to be a better blogger!
There are only 10 places available for this workshop, so sign up quickly!
It’s suitable for anyone who wants to start blogging, or who wants to improve their blogging to enable them to meet their goals. Equally, those who want to encourage blogging within their organisations will find this workshop helpful.
The day will cover:
- Why blogging is a good idea and how it can be used
- Choosing a platform
- Setting up a new blog
- How to write engaging content
- Ideas for different types of blog posts
- Using different types of media
- Practice writing and publishing posts, with constructive critique
- Post event support by email for those that need it
The event will take place in central London at a venue to be confirmed. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, as will laptops to enable practical work to be undertaken.
Interested? Sign up on Eventbrite. Register before the middle of June and you get a discount!