Culture Bits for the Temporarily Deranged

We’ve made it to week two of culture bits (these are fun!), and I was so jealous of Timo and Melle that I took the week for myself. Sorry about the fairly dark turn it takes at the end though… I’ll force next week’s author to be more positive.

Chris - currently under-caffeinated dad writer guy

Daily grumble: For months I’ve been planning to pre-order the Nintendo Switch, but I woke up this morning in a waffling mood. Should I do it? Is it worth it? When I finally got around to it, they were all sold out.

Daily good: After not getting my pre-order, I went out for some coffee and chilaquiles. Instant satisfaction.

Latest book: It’s hard to get a lot of reading done with a baby crawling around the house, but I’m almost through with Imbibe! (the exclamation is in the title). If you like your cocktails served up with a heaping helping of history, this is your book.

Music: A lot of Run the Jewels 3. It’s been on repeat for a few weeks now.

TV Show: I wish I was cool enough to say I’ve been binging a Netflix drama, but the only show I’ve been keeping up with lately is The Good Place. I get a good laugh every episode.

Internet thoughts: I read a post yesterday about time-saving technology that ended with a good quote: “When generating information becomes cheap, finding the information that matters becomes correspondingly more expensive.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot today.

Internet thoughts 2: Sorry for adding more Trump weight, but this gave me a shudder: “Don’t expect any camaraderie. They (other journalists) are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says.” Readers eyes are spread so thin that getting attention seems to require A. ridiculous headlines, B. stretched truths C. playing “The Man’s” game. None of the options are especially good for society.

Instant happiness: BarkShop poop bags (I know… gross) have the best copywriting on the planet. They make the best things.

Best content aggregation and curation tools

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As argued by Chris yesterday, we need more local content aggregators, but what are the best tools to build and reach an audience? Let’s take a look at some services that make it easy to aggregate and curate content.

Web-based services

You could set up a blog of course, but maintaining it requires commitment and more work than simply collecting content from other sources. Instead, use one of the following specialized services that make content aggregation a breeze:

  • paper.li: This service enables you to publish newspapers based on topics you like and deliver fresh news to your readers on a daily basis. For $9/month you also can send out newsletters and use your own domain for custom branding. And to top it off, iwantmyname makes it easy to connect domains to paper.li with just a single click.
  • scoop.it: Simply enter a few keywords and have scoop.it search for content from more than 35 million web pages. Then add your own sources such as RSS feeds or social media accounts and have them published on your site as well. Pricing starts at $11/month for up to 5 personalized content hubs.
  • elink.io: The newest of the bunch and built from the ground up as a hybrid between web and email aggregation giving you the best of both worlds. Adding links to your website can be done manually or via RSS from any desktop or mobile device. With a 14-day trial and $12/month after there is no reason you shouldn’t give it a go.

Email-based services

The first thing that probably comes to mind is to set up a newsletter using MailChimp or the likes. However, there are better, often newer ways of reaching people using specialized services for curated newsletters:

  • curated.co: Helps you put together a digest newsletter in no time. Collect links using the Curated bookmarklet, add your thoughts, and off you go. The service automatically creates an archive website with past issues so you can share it through non-email channels such as Facebook or Twitter as well. Pricing is based on subscriber count and starts at $25/month.

  • Revue: Makes it extremely simple to send newsletters and start conversations with your audience. Add links via their Chrome browser extension, use other sources such as Pocket and Instagram, or write your own content. The Pro Version starts at $5/month (includes 1,500 users) and also allows you to use a custom domain name.

  • Goodbits: Saves you hours collecting content and curating your newsletter by automatically integrating with services like Zapier and Slack. Their management tool stands out using a Trello-like card interface which lets you easily collect and rearrange topics. To round things up, Goodbits offers both an embeddable form for any website as well as a dedicated landing page hosting your archive issues. Plans start at just $6/month.

Don’t forget to publish using your own domain

All services listed above support custom domains, meaning you can brand your content as your own, e.g. by having a newsletter come from your own domain name. But what domain extensions should you be using? Here are a few ideas using some extensions you might not have heard of:

  • .NEWS, .REPORT, .FYI: These are great for any news-centric content
  • .ORG and .COMMUNITY: The .ORG top-level domain (TLD) is well known and trusted by people with .COMMUNITY being a newer alternative
  • .WTF and .FAIL: Let the domain extension speak for itself if you’re really unhappy about the state of affairs
  • .CITY and .TOWN: Make it local with yourcityname.CITY or yourtownname.TOWN
  • City top-level domains like .NYC or .MIAMI: If you’re lucky to live in a city with its own domain extension
  • Country code top-level domains, e.g. .US or .MX: Express your opinion about building a wall on one of these

Whichever service or domain you choose, please do your audience a favor – be active and try to add your own opinion as much as possible because that’s what the web should be all about.

We Need More Local Content Aggregators

I’ll come out and say it: I’ve been in a serious funk these last few days because of the political climate (I’m not only in the US, but in a fairly red state). It dawned on me (for the 50,000th time) that the way out of this mess isn’t more general outrage, it’s finding common cause with your neighbors and doing something about it. If there’s anything to be learned from Tea Party Republicans, it’s that change starts with local governments – we (progressives of all stripes) just need everyone to be on the same page to get the right people and ideas voted in.

As I see it, the problem is that:

  • we’re wasting all our outrage on problems too big to solve without support from local representatives.
  • we move onto new problems too fast.
  • we’re only sharing articles that are about things going on too far away.
  • we’re wasting all our breath on our limited social media bubbles.

What we need is aggregated local content (ideally supported by the community, not Google Ads). Aggregated content on a national and global level is easy to find (I scan techmeme.com, memeorandum.com, Hacker News, and the NextDraft newsletter daily), but my life is void of well-written articles about local policy and trends. It’s being written – local journalism (including blogging) is dying, but it’s not dead –it’s just harder to find than the national/global outrage du jour floating around on Facebook. And if I know anything, it’s that our collective appetite for friction is painfully low. Content needs to be easy to find – ideally in a centralized location.

This might sound crazy, but what we need in 2017 (in my eyes) isn’t more writers, it’s more people putting in the time to find, collect, and distribute what’s good. Find a niche in your local community, start a real website (no offense, but those heavily templated auto-aggregator apps just don’t cut it… start a Wordpress blog or something and collect links/ideas Daring Fireball style if you must), and be your town’s home page – give your local content writers a place to be excited to appear on.

Future-proof Your Medium Links By Moving to a Custom Domain Before It’s Too Late

Venture capital is going to murder Medium:

The web, of course, will go on, if murder is indeed what she’ll write. Especially for anyone who moved to Medium but hedged their bets by keeping their own domains. A quick dump and nothing will break — except our hearts. Again.

Like I said in my last post, let’s make 2017 the year of the indie web; if you haven’t moved your Medium blog to a custom domain yet, here are their instructions. We’d be thrilled to help you set this up!

Let’s Make 2017 The Year of the Indie Web

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If one thing became apparent to me in 2016, it’s that we should strive for a more independent web. An independent web with individual voices outside the big social networks and less reliant on corporations making people the product by collecting data on them. Hence, we are making it our mission at iwantmyname to help you becoming an indie web user in 2017 and beyond.

There have been several events triggering my desire of helping you to achieve that:

  1. The current political climate with the rise of right-wing populists globally.
  2. How fake news on social networks like Facebook or Twitter can impact popular opinion.
  3. An increasingly more unpleasant climate in social media with people abusing each other.

But where to start with becoming an indie web user?

As Chris already said in his post-election domain thoughts:

If you have something to say, or a point of view that needs to be heard, get a domain name and start a blog. It’s not hard. Be the thoughtful voice people are sharing on social media, instead of hoping the things you want to read will be written.

Setting up a blog on your own domain is the easy part, but there are a few other things you should consider before publishing your first post.

Get into writing (again)

Whether you’ve published on the internet fairly regularly or want to start as a new writer, try forming a habit first by setting aside a few minutes per day to jot down your thoughts. Not for the public but just for yourself.

Use an app like Streaks to create a habit for at least 3-4 weeks before even thinking of writing publicly. Only then, make the jump to a larger audience. Nobody is saying you need to post regularly, but forming this habit increases the likelihood of succeeding– and as a side effect you become a better writer.

Build an audience by publishing from your domain outwards

An often-overlooked aspect of developing a truly independent voice on the web is publishing content on your domain name first, then going outwards after.

There’s no denying the fact that networks like Facebook and Medium allow you to reach bigger audiences than on your own site. But it’s important always to publish on your domain name first and everywhere else second. Then make a habit of cross-posting (or even better automate it) so people can share and amplify your content’s reach. For example, if you have a blog running WordPress, you could use Medium’s WordPress plugin to have your posts appear on both your site and Medium.

Don’t just chase followers by concentrating efforts on a particular network but deliver great content on your web address, and your audience will grow everywhere else as a result.

Make sure you own your content

In an ideal world, I would recommend choosing a service based on open source software, but I understand that’s not always feasible. There’s nothing wrong with using the Squarespaces of the web if they make your life easier in one way or another. However, you should always make sure the service you choose allows you to export content in case you want to move somewhere else later (occasionally doing a backup of your content doesn’t hurt either.) On that note, there are many Dropbox-based blogging tools worth looking into which let you keep a local copy of your writing.

Support the small guys

I recently came across a new Kickstarter campaign looking to fund development of a new publishing platform called Micro.blog (btw, what a great name using the new .BLOG top-level domain). Try to keep an eye out for projects and companies like this and support them. And don’t just go for the cheapest options available – get to know the service’s motivations and ethics and do your best to support the good ones.

Reconsider the tools and services you’re using

Have you focused on Medium for most of your writing? Maybe it’s time to reconsider and move to WordPress.com instead. This week’s announcement from Medium laying off 50 of their staff shows how fragile centralized platforms can be. I really want them to succeed in finding a model that works without advertising, but always keep in mind that any business backed by venture capital is at the mercy of its investors. No return on their money often means shutting down the business or selling it off (before it most likely will be shut down anyway.)

The list of these platforms goes on and on, and the best way to get away from that world is to make a list of all the free tools you’re using and replace them with paid alternatives. For example, have you ever questioned the use of Google Analytics for your site? And are you still using Gmail instead of a custom email address with your domain? You get the idea.

Join the indie web

Keeping the web open and independent is how it was supposed to work from the beginning. Make your domain the center of everything you publish online, wisely choose the tools and services you use, and consider replacing ones you’ve been using because they are free. It’s time to take the web back into your own hands!

Culture Bits to Ring in the New Year

2017 has officially arrived, and we’re kicking off the first Friday of the new year (or Saturday for you New Zealanders) with nuggets of wisdom from Timo and Melle. Who knows… maybe this will become a weekly thing.

Timo - #dadlife (#dadlife is all consuming)

New Year’s resolution(s): I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something around me, it happens when it happens.

Looking forward to in 2017: Anytime I can spend with family and friends overseas. Living in New Zealand is beautiful but has its downsides if most people you love are on the other side of the planet.

Biggest domain story of 2017: There will be more domains expiring than ever as people stop hoarding them and only keep the ones they’re actually using. With that many domain extensions available, you’ll always be able to find a reasonably good name for any project.

Parenting tip(s): Trust your instincts.

Music people should be listening to: That’s an interesting one because my listening habits completely changed last year. Two years ago I still listened to quite a few albums, but these days, I mostly prefer curated playlists from Spotify. Some of my recent playlist favourites are Indie Electronics, Orgánica and RetroWave / Outrun.

Life hack: All life hacks are worthless if you have a toddler. ;)

Last domain bought: A .wedding domain.

Learned in 2016: Patience (also see under “Life hack”).

Best 2016 purchase: Sonos speakers. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about until I started looking into making the switch to wireless speakers and haven’t looked back ever since. Such great products!

Everyone should watch: I got into period drama series after finally finishing Mad Men last year. Some series that I started watching or plan to watch are “Manhattan,” “Deutschland 83”, “Halt And Catch Fire,” and “The Americans.” That should keep me busy for the next few years.

Blogging is: The best way of making your voice heard on the internet. Personally, it always gives me a huge sense of accomplishment seeing your word out in the open and that you might be able to inspire someone or get people thinking.

Melle - our OG Canadian, lover of trivia night

New Year’s resolution(s): Not my thing.

Looking forward to in 2017: Definitely visiting some new countries.

Biggest TLD story of 2017: We get a fair number of inquiries for .APP, so if that one comes around I think it’ll be a big deal. I’m curious to see who and how people end up using it.

What to drink: Ontario, where I live, is going nuts with its craft beer scene. So I recommend checking out your local craft breweries/cideries/distilleries - great folks, happy to educate, and awesome products.

Music people should be listening to: Head out to your local pubs and clubs and enjoy some live music. There’s always great discoveries to be made, and supporting local businesses/artists is a good thing.

Life hack: For those who live in northern climes, if you keep one of the back windows of your car cracked a teeny bit, it keeps the inside of the windows from fogging up and freezing into frost.

Last domain bought: A .PARTY one for planning my parents’ anniversary.

Learned in 2016: Oodles of things. I’m a podcast junkie. Getting to use some of them at pub trivia nights is very satisfying.

Best 2016 purchase: My Instant Pot. I have joined the cult and have never eaten better. :)

Everyone should watch: I’m a big fan of sped-up videos of cake decorating.