|DanieVDM, via Flickr (CC license)|
|What makes a cornerstone skill online?|
Recently I wrote about my frustration about what I perceive as low adoption rates for cornerstone skills for today’s online media — especially by people who are interested in online media.
Here’s a bit more explanation about why I think learning to use a feed reader and getting experience making public comments on blogs or forums (not just e-mail lists) are so crucial to really “getting” what’s so important and powerful about online media.
It all boils down to mindset. The catch is, changing your mind isn’t all in your head. The most effective, lasting way to adapt your online-media mindset, habits, and priorities is to actually use these skills — not just know about them in a theoretical sense…
Feed reader: If you learn how to subscribe to a feed in any feed reader, even one as simple and non-geeky as MyYahoo, you start to realize the value of being connected to an ongoing but targeted flow of information — whether from a particular venue (such as a blog) or a topic (subscribing to a saved search from a feed aggregator, such as Technorati).
Using a feed reader helps you realize how findable and connected feeds can make any kind of content. You’ll start making feeds a priority in everything you publish online, and in the tools you choose (from blogging platforms to content management systems).
Also, you’ll realize how reaching your audience or community is not just about your site, so Web design starts taking a back seat to effective distribution. (I’m not excusing or encouraging bad design; I just don’t think web design continues to deserve the high priority in terms of resources and focus that many online publishers continue to grant it.)
You’ll also realize how much easier and faster it can be to track multiple information sources via feed, as opposed to e-mail or conventional Web surfing. With practice, this can help you manage your sense of information overload. And, of course, feeds are the basis of subscribing to most podcasts and vidcasts (even in iTunes).
Commenting on blogs and forums. This is technically simple in most cases — just filling in a short online form. However, for many people actually getting involved in a public conversation that’s likely discoverable via search engines (which is often not the case with e-mail lists) is a challenging but eye-opening experience.
It can be humbling but surprisingly empowering or liberating to be on a level public playing field with your readers, sources, and other communities or constituencies.
Getting in the habit of commenting on blogs and forums, following at least some comment threads or conversations that sprawl across multiple venues, or at the very least reading and responding to comments left on your stories at your own site or blog, helps you join the participatory culture of online media. It helps you realize how much you can gain from direct public engagement, and how to use it to make your work easier in some respects and more effective overall.
This in turn influences how you plan and execute your online media efforts — especially learning to embrace and feature discussion, not just treat it as a sideshow.
WHY “DOING” MATTERS MORE THAN “KNOWING”
For a lot of things about online media, simply understanding the basic concepts of what something is, how it works, and why it matters (or not, depending on the people involved), is enough. But with these cornerstone skills, simply knowing what they are in a theoretical sense rather than actually practicing them won’t get you very far.
That’s because in this case experience is what lends crucial insight. Whatever I or anyone else tells you about getting more connected through feeds and public conversations won’t really sink in, and won’t significantly enhance how you perceive and use all media (including online media). In my experience, experience itself — the “doing” — is what opens people’s minds enough that they make significant changes in how they use media to inform and engage with others.
That’s what I mean about really “getting” today’s online media. I know that I’ve offended some people by putting it that way. I’m sorry for causing that offense. I don’t mean to demean or impugn anyone’s good intentions, and the learning they’ve achieved so far. As far as I’m concerned, all learning about online media is potentially good and useful.
The point is, the highly interconnected, engaged, conversational nature of today’s online media is a matter of experience, not theory. This is not a spectator sport. By holding off from using these cornerstone skills for whatever reason (lack of time is the one I hear most commonly), you’re only making it harder on yourself and hiding your light under a barrel. This is especially true for people who have a strong interest in and passion for online media, and the future of all media.
The surprising benefit is that the slight effort it requires to learn and use these two skills — even just occasionally, not spending hours daily in this regard — is generally rewarded amply and quickly by enhancing your effectiveness in consuming media and engaging with the various communities you need to reach. In other words, it can make your work easier, save you time, and be more fun and effective.
I’ll be following up on this theme more, but I’d really like to hear what you have to think about this. Especially if you haven’t yet started practicing these two cornerstone skills, or don’t intend to. Please comment below.
(NOTE: This is an edited version of a post I made today to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)