Here are the most brilliant online articles I read this past year. You may not agree with the arguments you’ll find, but you have to give them credit for being original and thought-provoking. They will enrich your thinking about writing and publishing, and give you a more nuanced perspective of the industry.
Also, you probably ought to follow each of these writers in 2012.
Accessibility vs. Access: How the Rhetoric of “Rare” Is Changing in the Age of Information Abundance by Maria Popova (@brainpicker) at Nieman Journalism Lab
Curators for the win!
Information curators are that necessary cross-pollinator between accessibility and access, between availability and actionability, guiding people to smart, interesting, culturally relevant content that “rots away” in some digital archive, just like its analog versions used to in basement of some library or museum or university.
Because here’s the thing: Knowledge is not a lean-back process; it’s a lean-forward activity. Just because public domain content is online and indexed, doesn’t mean that those outside the small self-selected group of scholars already interested in it will ever discover it and engage in it.
I feel like quoting this article every time I hear someone bash Wikipedia. But this article is far more complex than just that.
It’s been over five years since the landmark study in Nature that showed “few differences in accuracy” between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Though the honchos at Britannica threw a big hissy at the surprising results of that study, Nature stood by its methods and results, and a number of subsequent studies have confirmed its findings; so far as general accuracy of content is concerned, Wikipedia is comparable to conventionally compiled encyclopedias, including Britannica.
This is actually a PDF of a speech given to journalism grads. Great for all kinds of writers.
What you’re looking for, ultimately, are stories. Statistics, to anyone who knows anything about them, aren’t factoids—4 out of 5 dentists agree that Colgate is the best toothpaste, Uganda is the 118th most populous country—but instead quanta of information that can be pieced together, just like all the other information that you collect as a journalist, to help you write stories and inform others about the world.
Here’s another graduation speech worth a read. Ed Jong at Not Exactly Rocket Science (Discover Magazine) introduces the full text of Krulwich’s talk.
Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.
Is the Future of Physical Book Publishing the Same as the Future of Reading and Writing? by Daniel Nester (@DanielNester) at We Who Are About to Die — no longer available; the site has been deleted
This one is so good I keep pulling it out during arguments on Facebook & Twitter, or mentioning it during conference talks.
It never ceases to amaze me how ebooks, the one truly positive sales story in publishing, is also the one topic that is brought up to point out that The Sky is Falling in publishing. The economic models that make an ebook and produce a book are largely the same–people read, edit, then publish. After that, it gets really cheap and efficient for the ebook, and really dumb and slow for the physical book. But books, physical ones, continue to serve as the measuring stick. This has a lot to do with aesthetics and fetishizing what a book’s job is, of course, which is to provide text for a person to read. It’s an important time and takes a significant chunk of one’s time, reading. Never mind that much of what we do reading-wise and practically all of our writing occurs on-screen. The book as object for many remains sacrosanct.
The Web is a Customer Service Medium by Paul Ford at Ftrain (@ftrain)
That’s what I tell my Gutenbourgeois friends, if they’ll listen. I say: Create a service experience around what you publish and sell. Whatever “customer service” means when it comes to books and authors, figure it out and do it. Do it in partnership with your readers. Turn your readers into members. Not visitors, not subscribers; you want members. And then don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves. These things are cheap and easy now if you hire one or two smart people instead of a large consultancy. Define what the boundaries are in your community and punish transgressors without fear of losing a sale. Then, if your product is good, you’ll sell things. (Don’t count on your fellow Gutenbourgeois to buy things. They’re clicking the little thumb icon on YouTube like everyone else.) If you don’t want to do that then just find niche communities who might conceivably care about your products and buy great ad placements. It’s a better online spend.
I find this so important I teach bio writing to all my e-media students.
Gone are the days of “Just the facts, M’am.” Instead we’re all trying to suss each other out in the relationship economy. Do I share something in common with you? How do we relate to each other? Are you relevant to my work?
That’s why the resume is on the out, and the bio is on the rise. People work with people they can relate to and identify with. Trust comes from personal disclosure. And that kind of sharing is hard to convey in a resume. Your bio needs to tell the bigger story. Especially, when you’re in business for yourself, or in the business of relationships. It’s your bio that’s read first.
The Ultimate Crowdfunding To-Do List: Before You Launch by Nathaniel Hansen (@nathanielhansen) at his own site
Don’t even think about launching a Kickstarter (or crowdfunding effort) without reading this first.
I get A LOT of requests to help with kickstarter campaigns. Through trial and error on over a dozen kickstarter projects, hours of lectures at Emerson College, and countless meet ups, phone calls and emails with artists and innovators, I’ve refined a “best practices” list that I share when I decide to get involved with a project. I’ve been fortunate to run my own successful campaigns, but also have helped out on over a dozen innovative artistic endeavors all of which have been successful in some way. What you’ll read here, and hopefully in the future, is what I’ve found to work (to the tune of almost $350k and counting).
Facebook is changing constantly, so this article will eventually become out of date, but not quite yet.
Fan Page Mistake #1: Assuming People Go To Your Fan Page (Versus Seeing Your Posts In Their News Feed). Most people, if they ever go to a fan page, only go there once. Some highly interactive pages get more visitors, and you can bring fans back to the page or to specific tabs with posts or ads, but usually fans see your page’s posts via their news feed.
Another fabulous piece by Paul Ford.
We’ll still need professionals to organize the events of the world into narratives, and our story-craving brains will still need the narrative hooks, the cold opens, the dramatic climaxes, and that all-important “■” to help us make sense of the great glut of recent history that is dumped over us every morning. No matter what comes along streams, feeds, and walls, we will still have need of an ending.
Kevin Kelly is one of my favorite futurists to read. The best book I read this year was by Kelly, What Technology Wants. (You can see my Kindle highlights on this book, and others.)
For a taste of his thinking, this is one his great posts on the future of books.
The current custodians of ebooks—Amazon, Google and the publishers—have agreed to cripple the liquidity of ebooks by preventing readers from cut-and-pasting text easily, or to copy large sections of a book, or to otherwise seriously manipulate the text. But eventually the text of ebooks will be liberated, and the true nature of books will blossom. We will find out that books never really wanted to be telephone directories, or hardware catalogs, or gargantuan lists. These are jobs that websites are much superior at — all that updating and searching — tasks that paper is not suited for. What books have always wanted was to be annotated, marked up, underlined, dog-eared, summarized, cross-referenced, hyperlinked, shared, and talked-to. Being digital allows them to do all that and more.
Monoculture: How Our Era’s Dominant Story Shapes Our Lives, a book review by Maria Popova (@brainpicker) at Brain Pickings
This is unrelated to writing and publishing (at least specifically) but you should read it anyway. It’s a review of a new book, Monoculture. When you’re done, subscribe to Brain Pickings, Popova’s e-newsletter.
“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser famously proclaimed. The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. And breaking through them becomes exponentially difficult because part of our shared human downfall is our ego’s blind conviction that we’re autonomous agents acting solely on our own volition, rolling our eyes at any insinuation we might be influenced by something external to our selves. Yet we are — we’re infinitely influenced by these stories we’ve come to internalize, stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience.
What did you read this year that you found indispensable or pure genius?