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Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to write a holiday letter (2008 Remix)

It's that time of year again. If the sales and the Christmas tree lots weren't already giving me hints, I'd know because StatCounter indicates a surge of hits to my 2006 post, Tips for Writing a Holiday Letter.

Here's a quick tip from it:

#4. Talk briefly about why you're writing the letter. "It's wonderful to take a few minutes to reflect about the year and share some highlights with friends," is the type of opening you're looking for. Don't apologize. If you feel compelled to open with something like "We hate to bore you all with another long, stilted holiday missive," you shouldn't be writing one.

Want more inspiration? Go for it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sorry I couldn't be two places at once

Some of us who usually attend Seattle Mind Camp were lured down to Portland over the weekend for Orycon. Orycon was great. However, this spoof video of Mind Camp, produced by Monica Guzman and Jason Preston, made me just a tad homesick!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Using a blog to promote and organize a conference

This excellent article on the Commoncraft blog does a good job of answering the questions I'm often asked by clients and prospective clients about using a blog to promote and organize a conference.

One-way blogging of conference announcements is low effort — and low return. Lee Lefever recommends creating a conference blog that enlists the talents of key presenters and invites discussion via comments. It's a sure-fire way to attract attention, and to energize the audience in advance of the actual event.

But, as his post points out, conference organizers need to be willing to deal with the controversies that can emerge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Should you redesign your website?

If you are considering redesigning your website, you may want to employ Website Optimizer to test the effectiveness of your changes before you commit to them. 80/20 Internet Marketing explains how this works.

Quick reads

Just as many social networkers enjoy the challenge of compressing their observations into a 140-word tweet, many writers have become intrigued with the power of a story told in just a few words. While flash fiction can be as short as a sentence, as a rule it tops out at 1,000 words.

This blog post, "A Flash of Inspiration," provides a good guide to the flash fiction genre.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I preferred the topless meeting

The Oxford University Press's choice for 2008 word of the year, hypermiling, left me cold, but I sure liked some of the finalists and shortlisted words:

frugalista – person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

topless meeting – a meeting in which the participants are barred from using their laptops, Blackberries, cellphones, etc.

and the more familiar

link bait – content on a website that encourages [baits] a user to place links to it from other websites

tweet – a short message sent via the Twitter service, using a cellphone or other mobile device.

Twitter: Beware the long tail and what it's attached to

There's no question but that journalism has in recent decades shifted its focus from news (chosen for news value) to "infotainment" (chosen for entertainment value). And the journalism world made this questionable move awkwardly, trying to handle fast-paced, sexy content via a creaky, stiff medium.

Then along came websites, blogs, and other social media communications platforms to show them how it should be done. One of the beauties of social media is that the "infotainment" is being provided by extremely clever and articulate infotainers. (You know who you are, folks.)

Everyone wants to get in the game now, and the web abounds with articles and posts about "how to" do great social media writing. Not surprisingly, some of this online literature is aimed at journalists trying to catch up with and get onto the bandwagon. An excellent addition to this genre is "Twitter to journalists: Here's how it's done" posted on the site eat sleep publish. The post collects "tips for journalists using social media" that blogger Monica Guzman solicited from her online colleagues. The tips (Twittered, of course) were short and to the point.

I'm honored to have been one of the people whose advice appears in the collection. And now I want to "out" myself as the contributer who offered up the most hard-line, old-time, journalistic advice. I wrote:

"NEVER relax the traditional standards you used for verifying facts and getting both sides’ points of view!"

It was a bit embarrassing to see all the other Twitterers' tips about savvy use of the latest social media sites when there I stood, effectively pounding my oh-so-sensible shoe on the digital desktop. (Yes, I know what era that reference comes from.)

But I want to stand by my stodgy comment, and expand on it a bit here. Particularly because I just spent some time arguing the other side this morning, urging a client with a business blog to cast off the stilted, detailed, boring language of press releases and adopt a reader-focused tone.

Blogging and Twittering are infotainment. As infotainment, they only need to present one side of the picture. Many great posts (and Tweets) are unabashed pieces of advocacy. These pieces are great because they're full of new information (or bring together information in a new and provocative way).'ll notice that the bloggers and Twitterers who consistently write great stuff have a reputation for accuracy (because they're verifying facts). And, if you get into a discussion with them via comments or email, you soon discover that they research not only the side of the issue they choose to present, but the other side as well. They know what they're up against before they hit "Publish."

By knowing both sides of the issue before you write, you not only occupy the moral high ground — you also prevent yourself from sounding like a horse's ass. (And I don't mean the political blog, which is rather wonderful.) In the world of Twitter, horses' asses tend to lose followers; it can get very messy if you follow too closely behind a horse.

So, I stand by my advice for journalists aspiring to Twitterificness, and hope that the social media darlings who haven't already figured it out will consider giving it a try as well — if just to keep their Manolo Blahniks and Skechers pristine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Take control of your Mac, your WiFi — and your turkey

Take Control ebooks is giving away a copy of Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner with every technology title sold.

The sale is on from now through Thanksgiving Day — since it's an ebook, you can download it at the last minute if you need to figure out how to make great gravy (or consult Appendix C: Last-Minute Thanksgiving). But it's worth getting it a week or two in advance to take advantage of all of Joe Kissell's great advice on planning Thanksgiving, from brining a turkey to making creamy mashed potatoes.

Not just chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers

I will never thing of social media, or s'mores, quite the same way after reading this Guy Kawasaki guide on how to attract more followers on Twitter.

Meet the geek

Tyler Pruitt, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Geek of the Week, is all about why geekiness is cool.

Now I have to go up to B.C. and find out what a Wunderbar is! But I've already downloaded Feedwhip.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Twitter goes mainstream

Colbert explains Twitter to Stewart.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Smart negotiating in tough times

I'm going to be doing some writing soon about ways I'm tightening up my business practices to deal with the tough economy.

One of my inspirations has been Seattle business entrepreneur Chris Rugh. His article "Negotiating with Contractors During Tough Times" is featured at Entrepreneurs' Organization. Well worth reading -- his advice on the mindset to use for successful negotiation has already saved me more than $1,000 on the repainting of the house interior!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On reading and health

At my annual checkup today, my doctor asked me if I watched TV. I said my TV isn't even hooked up to broadcast sources -- I only use it to watch DVDs when friends come over to visit.

He laughed, admitted that he doesn't watch broadcast TV, either, and commented that he sees a direct correlation between lots of of TV watching and poor health among his patients, particularly the elderly. He said the problem isn't just sitting and watching TV instead of exercising; it's letting the mind slip into passivity instead of engaging with games, discussions, puzzles, writing, and reading.

I love reading, but recently have been spending what used to be my reading time writing instead. And instead of reading new books, I've been working my way through science fiction classics (such as Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia) to get a better understanding of that genre.

Thus, I have yet to read any of the books on Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year list. But, seeing the list made me realize how much I want to get to some of these, particularly Michael Connelly's latest, The Brass Verdict, Donald Ray's Knockemstiff, and Greg Bear's City at the End of Time.

(cross-posted on Food, Fitness, Fashion)