An early spring clean

As I’ve been posting here more and more recently, I’ve spotted a few things about the site which I’m not happy with. One of the biggest issues has been around how I sort posts and all the meta data that is related to them.

For the last few years I’ve used WordPress’ built in Post Formats to organise the type of content I post here. They’ve allowed me to display content in different ways for each type of post I make. Alongside the Post Formats I’ve been making use of categories, each post got categorised with a category that corresponded to the type of post it was. This week I realised how redundant those categories are. Essentially I’ve been adding the same information to a post in two different ways, consequently posts have not had much context in terms of what they are about or how to find similar posts.

This morning I’ve spent a bit of time changing that. Posts are now categorised in wider subject areas and contain many different types of posts. I plan to surface the Post Formats information when I redesign the blog to have a design unique to me and that doesn’t make use of one of the standard themes.

One consequence of the re-categorisation of posts is that it’s surface how woefully I’ve been tagging posts. Currently I have 337 tags across 686 posts. That’s a lot of tags, but even with just a cursory look over the tag list shows I’ve got many variations on the same word. One of my next, and probably most tedious tasks, will be to sort out and clean up my tag list so that they provide better granular categorisation.

It should provide a more useful hierarchy of meta data to the site, Post Format (type of post) \> Category (wider subject) \> Tags (smaller subject information). Hopefully it means I’ll be able to find my own posts better, WordPress’ recommended posts might actually be useful and return to the site, and readers will be able to find more posts related to the one they’re reading.

Quantity not quality

There’s an odd pressure when you’re trying to exercise the muscle of discipline, it’s tempting to want everything you do as a part of that to be the best that it can be. Sometimes you need to just push through and exercise that muscle. When you’re starting out, quantity is often more important than quality. You need to get used to doing something regularly before you can focus on doing it better, otherwise the fear of not good enough can hold you back and prevent you from making the progress you want to make.

Micro.blog Photo Challenge

Doug Lane has posted his idea for a Micro.blog Photo Challenge and Manton has already added a pin to Micro.blog for those who manage to complete the challenge.

This is one of the things I’m really enjoying about Micro.blog at this early stage, the community is so actively engaged and Manton is so quick to respond to good ideas that fit with the vision of the service. I’ll be aiming to take part in the challenge so keep your eyes peeled for my contributions over the next week.

Seth’s Blog: This Is Post 7,000 ›

Seth Godin made his 7,000th post to his blog yesterday.

7,000.

That’s one post a day for just over 19 years. That’s both inspiring and humbling at the same time. Inspiring because it makes turning up to post on a blog everyday doable and something that is entirely achievable. Humbling because I haven’t managed to complete a whole months worth of posts everyday for a long time, let alone a whole year.

There’s one thing that we can learn from anyone who is able to repeatedly turn up like Seth has been for the last 19 years. It’s a skill we can all learn. Posting to a blog everyday for 19 years isn’t only for people who have a large following, we’re all capable of doing it, it just takes a bit of discipline. So here’s to the next 19 years Seth, and everyone who blogs with any regularity.

Self Portraits ›

This is a really interesting post from Colin Walker about what we have effectively been doing on social media for the last 10 years. Painting a self portrait of ourselves over time.

I’ve never thought about it like that before, and when you add in you’re own blog or personal site, it makes for a rich and textured ongoing piece. His conclusions at the end of the post are challenging…

We can tell the stories we think other people want to hear. We can tell skewed stories as we are often not truly honest with ourselves. We tell other people’s stories rather than our own, without comment, without opinion.

What use are the wrong stories and are we doing ourselves a disservice by telling them?

I think, that without realising it, over the last few months of trying to revitalise my blog and using Micro.blog I and many others are trying to reclaim our stories and take hold of the paintbrush.

Posting to Twitter through your own site first changes the focus of the service entirely. We go from being a passive consumer, liking, retweeting, replying, with the occasional original post, to an original post being the focus. We are creating and adding to our own story rather than expanding and adding to someone else’s. Of course it’s not wrong to be involved in other people’s lives, we are created to be in community, but by creating first the involvement turns into a conversation rather than just turning the volume up for someone else. There’s a balance to be found.

Seth Godin Explains Why You Should Blog Daily ›

With the arrival of Micro.blog my interest in my blog has picked up considerably. It’s always been there bubbling at the back of my mind, but actively posting micro posts to it has me once again looking to post other content more regularly. CJChilvers linked to an article by Seth Godin that Explains Why You Should Blog Daily resonated deeply with me and the growing desire to post to this site more regularly. It’s both a creative outlet both and a mental outlet that I know will be good for me. I intend to mix the content I post between links, quotes and original articles/thoughts alongside the afore mentioned micro posts.

We are all bloggers

I created my first blog back in 2005 while I was at university. I had come across a number of blogs that I enjoyed reading and looking at the design of them. I wanted in on the game, a means of having my own piece of the internet, a way of learning about web design, and a place to write. It became a bit of a hobby, one which I enjoyed and one which I have battled with trying to regain over recent years.

The last few months have been interesting on the internet. There has been an increasing awareness that the large social networks create a bit of a cauldron. A boiling pot of likeness. The ability of sites like Facebook and Twitter to learn what kind of things you are interested in means they continually surface things that you like and are interested in. It’s a logical behaviour, but it’s one which lacks the ability to show you what people outside of your bubble are actually thinking and saying. They create controlled environments that perpetuate similar trains of thought.

Services like Medium also serve similar purposes, they want you to use their website and app as your only source of finding new content on the internet. It uses similar techniques to the bigger social networks and it presents it in a largely homogenised appearance to make it all look the same and give it the same visual voice. It takes ownership of your content and with it adds your voice to that bubbling pot of likeness.

There’s a big danger to that boiling pot. Each person ends up with their own, fed by similarity and linked to other similar pots by the content that fits them both. It takes away discourse. It takes away reason. It takes away the ability to have conversation and the ability to disagree well. It leads to a world where different opinions are denounced as bigotry, especially when they are contrary to the popular culture of the time. It’s something I am beginning to see more and more of, and something which I am beginning to feel influence my own thinking. That’s why I’m starting to see a fresh how important it is that we keep the web open. That we keep the ability to post to our own corners of the web and share it with those we know and in public domains that are easy to find. It’s why we need bloggers.

The problem is, that many people don’t see themselves as bloggers. It’s a geeky past time, that’s seen as old hat and no longer the done thing. What’s most interesting is that anyone who uses sites like Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram, are bloggers. Posting a tweet is a blog post. It’s a small one granted, but at it’s essence that’s what it is. Likewise with Facebook, any status posts, notes or whatever other myriad of things you can post originally to the site, are at their essence blog posts. We are all bloggers, whether we are aware of it or not. The difficulty is that we need to find ways of encouraging people to post these things to their own sites first, to take ownership of their thoughts and opinions, no matter how long they are. This is why I’m so excited by services like Micro.blog which encourage you to start your own Twitter-like personal site, which you own and can direct to other places. I’m not just excited by the idea of encouraging people to own their own posts, but by the fact that it could, like it is doing to me, get people interested in the idea of sharing their own thoughts and opinions in longer form as well. That’s what the web was built on. It’s what the web needs.

About Me ›

For a while now I’ve owned the domain philbowell.me, I bought it while it was cheap and to make sure no one else got hold of it and thus cause confusion with the domain of this blog. I’ve wondered what to do with it for most of that time, briefly it acted as a micro-blog but I merged that with this site a few months back. This evening while doing a bit of introverting I picked up my iPad (where I designed it and set the basic html structure), then my MacBook (where I implemented the CSS) and ended up with a new web page. A small about me should anyone stumble upon it. The only thing I’ve yet to do is optimise it for an iPhone sized display but it’s working pretty well on an iPad sized screen and upwards.

Tinker

The desire to tinker is strong in this one.

I have this problem when it comes to my blog. The more I start to post to it, the more I want to tinker. The more active I am on the site, the more I notice little things I don’t like and want to fix. The more I post to it, the more I want all my internet posting to originate on it. It’s like an illness.

It’s something I’ve always struggled with, and I confess it’s a side to blogging that I enjoy. The trouble is, the more I tinker the less I post. The more I craft the design, the less time I spend writing.

It’s a battle, although one I’m sure I do not face alone. It’s not just the battle of a blogger, it’s a battle of a designer. Most of the tinkering I do is design related, little details and quirks in my theme which I notice but very few others will. I also know from experience, that I will get to the point where I’ve caught the little tweaks I need to and they will be fixed. Then it’s just a case of resisting the bigger things I’d like to do. Or at least knocking off the major ones first, like finding a way to post photos here and on Instagram, displaying them in a way I’m happy with. The key though, is to keep the posts flowing. Keep to my challenge of posting everyday, and getting through the tinkering stage until I get to the point where I’m just posting each day and all my published content originates here.

Or is it just a pipe dream? Should I just keep posting and ignore the little bits that nag?

But I know I can’t just ignore the nagging. I’m a designer, I like details and its in my nature to keep refining bits until they’re gone. To keep crafting until they as close to perfect as can be, it’s just important to keep the perspective, to keep in mind that perfect doesn’t exist. It’s about getting things to good enough whilst keeping on posting each day and building momentum so that the writing takes over the tinkering and becomes a creative outlet in its own right.

Blogroll

Back when I first started writing on the internet – ok it’s called blogging, ugh – I discovered a lot of blogs through the sidebars of those I was reading. The trend at the time, way back in 2006, was for each blog to feature a Blogroll. A collection of links to the blogs of other people that the author of each site either knew personally or who simply enjoyed those other sites. It was a great way of finding new blogs to follow and it’s sad that the practice seems to have pretty much disappeard.

It might be ten years since I started my first blog, and with it my first Blogroll, but I figured it was time to revive it. What follows, in no particular order, is a list of blogs which I read regularly on a wide range of topics. I hope there are some you haven’t come across and that you to will enjoy reading.

The Rules of Combat

In the words of Tyler Durden

Do not talk about Fight Club.
Do not talk about Fight Club.
DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.

Ok… maybe not. This isn’t Fight Club and that’s a fairly old cliché. These rules are the rules of my little challenge. This is where I’m defining what counts and what doesn’t.

This site has a few different types of post that can appear on it, for the purposes of clarity they are

  • status
  • photo
  • quote
  • video
  • aside
  • link
  • standard article

Each one is designed for a specific type of content and has a custom style to help differentiate them.

Status Posts

Status posts, or snippets, are micro posts. They automatically share to my Twitter as a post there, I don’t always use them but I plan to start more, especially with the pending arrival of Manton’s snippets.today.

Photos and Videos

Meant for any photos or videos I create and want to share through this blog. Photos are cross posted to Instagram and Flickr.

Quote

Any pertinent quotes that I come across and wish to share without commentary.

Asides

Any short posts that don’t warrant a full post but are longer than a snippet. This type might be retired.

Links

Links to articles that I think are of interest and have something I want to add or highlight. The title of these types of posts point people away from this site to the article I’m linking too.

Standard Article Posts

These are the normal blog posts, the original content. These are the ones that I want to be the majority of my posts to be.

What Counts?

The posts that count the most will be the standard blog posts, the original content. When I say the most, I mean that the aim is for the majority of my posts to be these ones. Creatively they have more value since they are my own thoughts and ideas and serve as an alternative creative outlet to my design work. These aren’t the only posts that will count though. Posts that are a link will also count. However, there’s a bit of a rule to go with these. They must include a piece of commentary that either adds my own thoughts, or that highlights a particularly pertinent part of whatever is being linked to.

Snippets or status posts will not count. Since they’re like Twitter posts in nature, I don’t want to take the easy way out and fall back on them as my daily post. Likewise with quotes and photos, the aim is for these types of posts to supplement the longer form and curated linked content.

Why add these rules to the challenge? My aim is to write more, and as a designer I’m all too aware that a few constraints to a project make things a bit easier. Constraints bring clarity, focus and freedom to a project, it’s only natural they will also bring it to this one.

What Do You Write About?

I know what you’re thinking. It’s only the second day of the challenge I set myself, to post to my blog everyday from now until the end of the year, and already I’m asking the question of what do I write about.

I would imagine it’s a familiar story to anyone who’s decided to undertake such a challenge. Going from barely writing or posting to your blog to posting everyday it’s only natural to find yourself wondering what to write about. If I hadn’t been here before it would be a big worry, it might even be so discouraging that I would just abandon ship straight away. Whilst this morning when I decided it was time to write today’s post I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to write about I know that if I keep going and posting each day I will eventually end up with too many subjects to write about. It’s the nature of the beast, the more you do it, the more ideas you have.

There are a number of different tactics that I’ve come across over the years that are aimed at helping you come up with subjects to write about. Unsurprisingly none of them have ever worked for me, but there is one thing that does. I know it works because I’ve demonstrated it in other parts of my life, be it reading my bible or doing the work for my freelance business.

Showing up every day.

So here I am, showing up. A new sheet in Ulysses, my headphones in and I’m writing. In fact through the course of writing this post I’ve already come up with the topic for tomorrow’s post. There it is in action. Showing up today has triggered the process. The more you do something the more idea’s you have, the first step is showing up.

A Blogging Challenge

I’ve written 442 posts on this site. The first one was written on 17th January 2011, that’s five and half years ago. It equates to around 80 posts per year and about 1.5 posts per week. It’s not bad going, but it could be better.

During those times there’s been many spells of inactivity and many spells of multiple posts per day, this is what I would like to change most about my site, the inconsistent posting patterns. Last night I found myself browsing the web in a way that I’ve not done for a long time. I ended up on a rabbit trail of personal blogs, one that started with a site I subscribe to that I kicked off into safari on my iPad. It felt like rediscovering the internet again. This was what got me into the blogging scene way back in 2005 when I started my first blog. There was a line in one of the articles I read that resonated with me. It was feedback that the author received regularly,

stopping blogging regularly was one of people’s biggest regrets
I certainly wish I hadn’t stopped. Or I should say, I wish I hadn’t let the habit slip.

Since I started blogging way back in 2005 I’ve had two main sites. The first site, which sadly is no longer in existence, lasted from 2006 until this site started in 2011. It was my first proper foray into internet publishing and as a result I didn’t really think too much about what I would post. Topics were wide in range but naturally reflected my personal interests, something which I feel has been lost a bit on this site. Which is somewhat ironic given that this is the site which bears my full name in the url.

With that in mind it’s time to declare that this is the first post in a new challenge I’m setting myself. I want to recapture the joy that I had when I first started publishing on the web. It was something I enjoyed and did everyday, and so, that’s my new challenge. I want to post to this site everyday until the end of the year. Some will be links, some will be original writing, but all of it will reflect me and my interests. I’m going to try my utmost not to pick and choose too much of what I write, I will simply write and post each day from now until December 31st.

Just Hit Command-N

Just hit Command-N. Those are the words I just read in a post from Manton Reece, and so that’s what I’m doing. I may not be a developer or someone who’s had much of an audience in my life on the Internet. However, for the last few weeks I’ve wanted to start posting to my site again but for whatever reason I’ve never known what to write. So here I am pressing the plus button in Ulysses on my iPad and writing.

I remember when I first got in to the whole blogging way of things. I wasn’t really selective about what I wrote about, I would just write whatever came to me. Of course there was a set of themes that would be covered, but they weren’t chosen with intention, there were just what my interests were. They were me. Since discovering Manton’s blog towards the end of last year I’ve been reminded of my early blog and the early blogs of those who I still follow. They were genuine and full of interesting things because they weren’t overly focused, they were just personal sites. Of course those sites, at least the ones that are still going, are still interesting but they’ve become more focused over time. Although that focus may have happened by a natural evolution as people found what really makes them tick, those sites are interesting in a different way now. Thankfully what I’m starting to see, and what I hope I continue to see, is more variety and new sites that are personal and reflect the whole of the person who writes them. That’s what drew me to this hobby we call blogging, and it’s what I hope will help me return.

So here’s to new beginnings, to starting to write more and to being less bothered about what I should write about and instead just posting what feels right.

Content Origins ›

A subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that of the personal site and owning content. Since I discovered the microblogging “movement” I’ve been thinking about how it should affect my posting to sites like Twitter. Manton’s thoughts in his post Long-form writing as a filter are echoing where I’m starting to land. I want to post/write for this site more, but I struggle to think of content. Maybe if I switch to originating all my content on my site first, those initial thoughts will grow into more substantial posts, or remain as micro-posts pushed to Twitter.

The Week in Links

After a brief break last week, I was on a mini-holiday, The Week in links is back with it’s 26th edition. This weeks take a look at how we work and think, how the design of the web is pushed a bit more. And then some furter thoughts on Apple Watch, headphones, cameras, and the often speculated Apple Car.

The Week in Links

Another Sunday and another edition of The Week in Links. This weeks featured links focus largely on the iPad and it’s ability to be used for work and not just for consumption. It’s a debate that has been raging for years, and one which we seem to be no closer to ending, although we might be a step closer once iOS 9 arrives in September.

I hope you’re enjoying your Sunday, sit back with a coffee and have a read.

  • Crossing the iPad Rubicon — 500ish Words – I love the idea of working solely on an iPad, along with many others, and the constant discussion of whether it can actually be done is interesting. But every time I read an article like this one, I can stop but come away feeling like the whole thing is just a romantic notion. That’s not to say that no one can solely work on an iPad, but I know I won’t ever be able too. My work requires a Mac, with professional software in the form of Creative Cloud. That said, if I had an office job of some kind, and only used a computer at home for the likes of email and writing for this site, then I’m pretty sure I could go all in right now.
  • The Tools & Toys Guide to Writing with an iPad — Tools and Toys – It seems to be a bit of a theme this week, the topic of working on an iPad. This is a really good guide for those looking to find out where to begin using their iPad as a more serious work tool by doing some writing on it. Personally I’m a Byword fan and use it on all my computing devices that I use to publish to this site.

The Best of the Rest

On Writing ›

A really interesting and comprehensive post by Ben Brooks about Writing.

What I like about this post is that it isn’t just a list of tools or a workflow. Although he covers those topics, the main meat of the piece is about why he writes. This is the kind of thing we should be reading more of, of course it’s fascinating reading about apps and workflows, but it’s more thought provoking and interesting to hear about why people do it.

The Week in Lnks

It’s been a buy and stressful week since the last edition of The Week in Links, but that’s why we call it work. It’s not always fluffy clouds and bright sunshine, even for those of us fortunate enough to be doing what we love for a living.

Despite all that, I have enjoyed quite a bit of reading this week. Once again I’ve highlighted a couple of articles which I really connected with. One from Shawn Blanc about work and one about working for yourself… probably not a coincidence after reading that first paragraph.

So sit back and enjoy this weeks edition alongside your Sunday coffee.

  • Concerning the Ebb and Flow of “Work” by Shawn Blanc – This is sometihng I’m learning about myself at the moment. Even before I was self-eployed my tendency was to do things all the time, I used to give my holidays to go and do a bible holiday club for two weeks every summer. It was different but incredibly tiring and it caught up with me. Now I’m self-employed forcing myself to rest is hard, in fact it hit me last weekend. I need to be away from home to rest and shut out my work, otherwise I and my work suffer.
  • Master working for yourself without crushing your soul — Dispatches from Paul Jarvis – Really interesting insights and thoughts on the areas on which to focus if you’re a freelancer. Focus upon what you want to do, talk about it lots and don’t be afraid of saying no. That final bit can be the hardest of all.

The Best of the Rest