This Week’s Grab Bag

More miscellaneous cool stuff I’ve recently stumbled across and would like to share.

Topping this week’s list: Writing Tips for E-mail Distribution of Your Article or Message (by Bill Platt). As always, I love succinct and practical tips articles – and this one succeeds on both counts. Many people and organizations (myself included) continue to publish text-only e-mail newsletters. This surprisingly demanding and quirky medium needs special attention. The tips in this article will help you create e-mail newsletter content that displays and works well for your subscribers.

SPECIAL MENTION: Being an avid bookaholic, I’m forever touting the joys of reading to, well, everyone. Now you can too – and win $1000 worth of books in the process. Powell’s Books is currently running an essay contest. Just answer this question in 350-750 words: What was your most memorable reading experience of the last ten years? Entry deadline: August 31, 2004, 11:59 p.m. PST. For each entry, Powell’s will donate $1 to Reading is Fundamental (a leading children’s literacy nonprofit).

Here’s the rest of this week’s list…
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Weblogs Are Not the Death of Narrative

The May/June 2004 issue of Mother Jones included an article by George Packer called The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged which kicked up a bit of fuss about political weblogs.

Packer realizes that weblogs are becoming one of the defining characteristics of public discourse concerning the 2004 US presidential election. But when you look at the content of political blogs, he doesn’t see this development as particularly revolutionary, and I agree with him on this point. The type of publishing currently conducted through weblogs strongly resembles 18th-century political pamhleteering. The writing style is different, the immediacy and reach of blogs is far greater, but the motivation and results are quite similar.

Still, does that mean blogs are enhancing public discourse? Packer seems to think not – and here I must respectfully disagree…
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Three Secrets of No-Pressure Blogging

The July 8 Wired News article Bloggers Suffer Burnout, by Daniel Terdiman, has sure generated a lot of buzz in the online world.

Bloggers are burning out, he writes, either from self-imposed compulsion to post, or thanks to thanklessly demanding readers. “Several bloggers contacted for this story noted that their readers seem to look at their regular, consistent posting patterns as somewhat akin to a sign of physical health. And any break in that pattern is sometimes seen as a cause for alarm.”

OK, for those of you who might have worried about my absence over the last few days, I was camping in the mountains. Wait – no one was worried? Oh my God, have I ceased to matter? Do I still exist? Will my mother still love me?

Chill out, my fellow bloggers. Blogging is supposed to be fun. Why bother otherwise? Here are a few tips to take the stress out of blogging…
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Arranging Ideas: Knowledge Management in Human Terms

Although I haven’t said so flat-out before, many of the tools and services I’ve been playing with, exploring, and seriously using lately (wikis, Furl, Bloglines, e-learning tools, content management tools – even blogging software and Gmail, to some extent) all have a common thread: what many people today call knowledge management.

However, I personally loathe the buzzword “knowledge management” because it has become hopelessly corrupted, convoluted, and devalued by companies hawking huge expensive systems or consulting services that border on organizational voodoo.

In my book, knowledge management boils down to arranging ideas. In other words, I prefer to view this as a real human process, not a technological or abstract one…

(NOTE: Read my July 27 followup to this article, which includes links to many articles in other weblogs commenting on this one.)
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Why I Might Try GMail

So far, I’ve more or less avoided investigating Google’s new Gmail service. I just have too much on my plate, and an existing backlog of cool tools like WikidPad I really want to play with.

However, I just read an intriguing Boxes and Arrows article that’s moved Gmail up on my mess-around-with-it priority list. See: The Information Architecture of Email, by Dan Brown.

Brown observes, “Gmail revealed to me my e-mail behavior – something I hadn’t previously given much thought. By making certain things easier (and others more difficult), Gmail showed me how ‘typical’ e-mail applications weren’t necessarily designed according to how I used them.”

That thought resonates very strongly with me. I’ve forever been wrestling with my e-mail software, and it’s wearing on me. I’m pretty sure the e-mail software has been winning…
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Feed Readers: What a Long, Strange Trip It\’s Been

UPDATE DEC. 11, 2004: Since writing this article, I’ve moved on to another favorite feed reader. I’m no longer relying on Bloglines, though I still recommend it in certain common circumstances. See Sage for Firefox: My new favorite feed reader, Dec. 11, 2004.

Over the past month I’ve gone through a considerable struggle and learning curve with regard to finding the best webfeed reader to suit my needs.

My needs are:

  • A clean, intuitive, user-friendly interface
  • The ability to sort webfeeds into folders by topic
  • The ability to easily import and export my extensive feed subscription list
  • Free (or cheap, a one-time fee)
  • Lean, dependable operation
  • No need to rely on Explorer in any way

I’ve gone from preferring eader and Sharp Reader – and after a lot of false starts and exasperation I’ve settled on a solution. It’s not perfect, but for now it meets my main criteria and I can see how it will continue to meet my needs in the future.

And the winner is: Bloglines. It’s a Web-based service, rather than a program that runs on my computer.

Here’s how I made that decision…
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Updated Link: CONTENTIOUS Reader Survey

I’m pleased that so many people have responded to the 2004 CONTENTIOUS reader survey! More than I expected, in fact.

I’m using the free version of SurveyMonkey (an excellent service) to conduct this survey. however, the free version only allows you to collect a limited number of results for any survey – and the first edition of my current reader survey is already nearing that limit.

To ensure that everyone who wants to complete this short 10-question survey can do so, I’ve created a second edition of the survey. It’s an exact duplicate of the first edition. The only difference is a new address:

To fill out my reader survey please now go to this address:

I mention this minor technical housekeeping detail because some people who got my weekly e-mail alert yesterday may click on the original link and find that edition of my survey closed because it’s full. Sorry about that. The link above will get you where you want to go.

This morning I sent out a special e-mail alert with the new survey link, but I’m expecting some people to still click the link for the first edition. I apologize for any confusion, and I welcome your comments!