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Pitch (v.) – to throw out

Pitch (v.) – to throw out published on No Comments on Pitch (v.) – to throw outPurchase print

Oh, pitches. You get so many as a blogger, yet it’s been so long since I’ve had a good one. And these days it’s rarely even “Here’s an interesting angle on a cool topic”; instead, the pitch is “Post my content” or “Post a link to my content.”

And the stuff is consistently awful content-farmed dreck, created purely to generate leads or sway search engine algorithms—with exactly the amount of heart and soul that implies.

Sometimes it’s a guest post they want me to run, with a few keywords including a link to some site they’re promoting. (“We have posts on a wide range of topics,” they’ll sometimes say. If I want to feel good about humanity, I’ll sometimes pretend that’s their way of apologizing for not researching what my site is actually about.)

Lately the MacGuffin of choice is an infographic, one they’re just so sure my readers will find fascinating. True, I don’t blog about student debt financing and probably never will, but they assure me you’ll be riveted by their collage of stats, charts and stock illustrations.

The high-water mark for pitches so far was one that came to me in my capacity as The NOW Group’s Director of Integrated Communications. “As a Director of Integr, we’re sure you’ll be interested,” the email gushed. Apparently the spammer’s database allocated only a miserly 18 characters to the field “sucker’s job title”.

(Let me make something clear. I take integr very, very seriously. I studied in the School of Integr at Carleton Univer, and being Director of Integr is the fulfilment of a lifelong dr. So kindly don’t use it with such casual disregard, please and thank-you.)

Here’s the sad truth. Unless it’s directly related to the stuff I write about, and unless it’s really useful to the folks who read my blog, I am never going to link to your infographic. Never.

And in response to the spammers’ “Why not share this with your readers?” I offer the same answer Arthur Dent once did: because I want to keep them.

Post, graduate.

Post, graduate. published on No Comments on Post, graduate.Purchase print

This one’s in honour of the news that Shel Holtz is going be teaching a graduate course on social media at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. (FAQ: Q. “But the cartoon looks nothing like him.” A. “That’s because it’s not supposed to be him.” Q. “…Oh.”) If you have any kind of involvement in social media at the organizational level, you’ll want to check out For Immediate Release, the podcast he and Neville Hobson have been doing for more than eight years now. (What am I saying? You’re already listening to it, right?)

Meanwhile, in case you missed the last episode…

Previously on Noise to Signal: “Chorizo” McGee – now barely human as the serum takes its terrible toll – triggers the fiscal cascade. With the global banking system hanging in the balance, Ivana makes a fateful call and tells Candace everything (or so she thinks). The tables are soon turned, though, as the Brahms Task Force makes landfall and takes on the Night Heron’s extraction team, and when the dust settles, nobody’s sure exactly who has the iridium casing for the Cantilever Device. In the ensuing scramble, the portal opens at last, freeing both the Qaos Quartet and the secret Vasily has spilled so much blood to hide. For Mayor Subramaniam, it’s an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, reconcile with Montenegro and – could it be at last? – reclaim that one great lost love. But that comes at the price of the third piece of the cipher key, and a broken oath with deadly consequences for everyone… even the reputedly immortal Children of Darkwood.

To make a long story short

To make a long story short published on No Comments on To make a long story shortPurchase print

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

I’m somebody who can, uh, go on. At length. About nearly any subject. Ask anyone who’s taken one of my classes… or read one of my blog posts once I get on a roll.

So I can understand why I’ll get the odd “TL;DR” in response. And I try not to take it personally; instead, I look on it as a reminder to pare my text down, murder my darlings and generally indulge myself a little less.

That’s on a good day.

On a bad day, I mourn the rapid decline of human civilization, curse people’s can’t-be-bothered-to-read-anything-longer-than-a-tweet mentality, and generally grumble about “kids these days”. I imagine scenarios where the instructions for disarming a doomsday weapon are three paragraphs long, and nobody on the planet has the attention span required to get through them.

And I’m finding my bad days now outnumber my good days by about five to one, and rising.

In fact, there are times when I…

No! Wait! Don’t go – the post is almost over! You’re almost at the comment form!

Dialog box

Dialog box published on No Comments on Dialog box

Open Community is a terrific new book from Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant for associations that want to dive into the world of online community – and it includes cartoons from yours truly. To celebrate its launch, I’m running a new cartoon from the book every day this week.

Here’s the final cartoon from Open Community – I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, and I hope you’ll check out Maddie and Lindy’s book!

I kind of like that there isn’t an obvious joke behind this one, and that it’s a little ambiguous. Maybe it’s about the choice we all have to write just another blog post, or to try to do something extraordinary – something that could maybe change the world in some small way. Or maybe it’s about unrealistic expectations. Or maybe it’s a remarkably subtle commentary on interface design.

I’m cleaning my oven… while I sleep!

I’m cleaning my oven… while I sleep! published on No Comments on I’m cleaning my oven… while I sleep!

Open Community is a terrific new book from Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant for associations that want to dive into the world of online community – and it includes cartoons from yours truly. To celebrate its launch, I’m running a new cartoon from the book every day this week.

There are times when I feel kind of like the Geordi La Forge of blogging: “I’ll reroute the RSS feed through the main sensor array — that ought to buy us enough time to depolarize the warp couplings with a Flickr badge!”

How about you? How Rube-Goldberg-esque is your blog setup?

In fairness, they do call it an Apple

In fairness, they do call it an Apple published on No Comments on In fairness, they do call it an Apple

Originally published on BlogWorld

At about the time I was drawing this – about 11:49 a.m. – the growling in people’s stomachs was drowning out the actual speakers. “So, say you’ve just written a great blog post about brie-stuffed tenderloin…” Shutupshutupshutupshutup!

Toonblog: The seven harsh realities of blogging for bucks

Toonblog: The seven harsh realities of blogging for bucks published on No Comments on Toonblog: The seven harsh realities of blogging for bucks

Originally posted on BlogWorld

Saturday’s opening keynote featured Sonia Simone and Brian Clark of Copyblogger and  Darren Rowse of Problogger looking at the downs and ups of blogging with an income in mind. (You can catch the full write-up from Alli here.) And here’s my take.

Baby needs a new premium template!

Baby needs a new premium template! published on No Comments on Baby needs a new premium template!

Originally posted on BlogWorld

I have learned that, apparently, no matter what your blog may be worth, the cashiers at the casinos here don’t accept it in lieu of tender. Hmph.

Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building community on your blog

Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building community on your blog published on No Comments on Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building community on your blog

Originally posted at BlogWorld

This one’s from a great session by  Darren Rowse, co-author of Problogger, looking at building community on your blog. The ideas were coming far faster than I could capture them; I’ve tried to capture the highlights here.

Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building your blog’s community

Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building your blog’s community published on No Comments on Toonblog: Darren Rowse on building your blog’s community

Originally posted on BlogWorld.

This one’s from a great session by  Darren Rowse, co-author of Problogger, looking at building community on your blog. The ideas were coming far faster than I could draw them; I’ve tried to capture the highlights here.

That’s not why they call it a “blog feed”

That’s not why they call it a “blog feed” published on No Comments on That’s not why they call it a “blog feed”

Originally posted on BlogWorld.

Chris Garrett wrapped a bang-up presentation on creating killer content a little while ago, and one of his slides jumped out at me. It was a good slide, even a great slide… but I thought it could use just…a little…extra.

(My belief that almost nobody cares what you just ate has been magnified for the purposes of this drawing, actually. It all depends on what you’re aiming to do with your blogging.)

So THAT’S why you have all those words after the headline

So THAT’S why you have all those words after the headline published on No Comments on So THAT’S why you have all those words after the headline

(Cartoon first appeared yesterday on Blogworld)

Yes, I’ve done it too. Always with the best of intentions. Here’s a sample of my internal monologue: “Gosh, that looks like an interesting headline. I’ll retweet it… [Click!] And now to go read the po-… Hey! Liza Donnelly just posted another cartoon!”

You may have noticed this happening with your own posts (in which case, I swear I’ll get around to reading them). If you’re using an URL-shortener like bit.ly, you can track statistics… and from time to time, you’ll see the number of retweets substantially outstrip the number of clickthroughs.

I haven’t done any real study of the issue (to some lucky doctoral student reading this: you’ve just found the topic for your thesis) but I have a few guesses about underlying causes: distraction, a headline that seems to say it all, posts that people don’t want to read themselves but figure would be good for their users. (This is how I feel about eating vegan.) And maybe I just write better tweets than blog posts.

Misty-coloured memories…

Misty-coloured memories… published on 2 Comments on Misty-coloured memories…

It was a more innocent time, wasn’t it? A time when conversation could flow through pings and trackbacks… when Bloglines was the newsreader to beat… when all the cool kids were talking about Del.icio.us and folksonomies.

In retrospect, it was too good to last. Oh, well… I guess it goes to show: you can’t go ∼ again.

Meanwhile, congratulations and a certain amount of awe to SMBC’s Zach Weiner, who posted his 2000th cartoon today. Tsk – kids these days. Way too much work ethic.

Cartoon originally posted on BlogWorld.com.

Make yourself at home. Hey, not THAT at home.

Make yourself at home. Hey, not THAT at home. published on No Comments on Make yourself at home. Hey, not THAT at home.

(Also posted on BlogWorld)

And it’s another lawsuit cartoon. What can I tell you? Suing people may be expensive and often wasteful… but it’s a comic gold mine.

By the way, that last lawsuit cartoon made it to the front page of Digg and to the pages of The Register. I say this not to brag – okay, not only to brag – but also to… to… aw, hell, I can’t think of a decent pretext. Let’s just leave it at this: I’m delighted, and thank you all for the support!

Custody battle

Custody battle published on No Comments on Custody battle

I originally posted this on the BlogWorld Expo blog. And while that’s usually something I italicize at the top of the post, today – my first day back from holidays, hurrah! – I’m going to encourage you to give them a look-see.

Not only is it a great-looking conference (for which I am their official cartoon-blogger – and if I had a “.full-disclosure” CSS class, I’d be tagging that phrase), but the blog has some great advice on blogging including case studies, primers and discussions of the issues, challenges and rewards faced by bloggers.

AFK, BRB after 2nd encore

AFK, BRB after 2nd encore published on No Comments on AFK, BRB after 2nd encore

(cartoon originally published on the BlogWorld Expo blog)

I’m totally going to be like this when I’m a rock star. (After those minor intermediate steps of learning to play an instrument and joining a band, of course.)

Today’s the last day of OSCON. Drop by and say hello if you see me; I’m the guy who isn’t compiling a Linux kernel or wiring an Arduino board.

ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S

ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S published on 3 Comments on ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S

Flaky wireless connections are a fact of life for bloggers on the move. If it isn’t tortoise-slow downloads, it’s a password that never seems to “take”. If it isn’t a connection that keeps dropping, it’s a router that refuses to give you an IP address.

Okay. So the connection’s too unreliable to let you post to your blog, and your mobile contract doesn’t include tethering. Don’t let that keep you from blogging. Here are five ways you can work on your blog, even when you aren’t connected to the hive mind:

  1. Outline your next blog post. Maybe you can’t do the research you want, find the URLs of the posts you’d like to link to, or hunt down the perfect Creative Commons image to illustrate your post. But you can sketch out the bare bones, and add the muscles, organs and stylish accessories once you’re back online.
  2. Clean up your hard drive. If you’re like me, you have little snippets of blog ideas and drafts all over the place. Bring them together in one folder, or one text file (your workflow will vary), and you’ll be miles ahead of the game next time you’re stumped for a post idea.
  3. Raid your subconscious. Break out the mind-mapping software, open up your Moleskine or just scribble on a napkin – but brainstorm ideas for your next five, ten or fifty posts. Don’t try to assess them at first; just get as many down as possible. Then, once the storm peters out, pick out the best and add them to your idea file.
  4. Make a to-do list. Chances are there are things you’ve been meaning to do for your blog: add a Delicious feed, check out an e-commerce plug-in, create a promo card to hand out at conferences. Set priorities according to the effort each task will require and the impact you expect each one to have, and you’ve just built yourself a development queue.
  5. Doodle. Draw something funny, or funny-ish. Then snap your doodle with your camera phone or digital camera. Once you’re online, upload it as a blog post. Hey – it works for me.

Last RSSpects

Last RSSpects published on No Comments on Last RSSpects

(originally posted at BlogWorld)

It can be hard to admit, but blogs have a life cycle – and, in some cases, a best-before date that may be well in the past. Your passion for the subject matter wanes; other interests beckon; your readers and commenters, maybe sensing your faltering commitment, move on to other venues.

And that’s okay. There’s no shame in saying that a blog has run its course. But as Allison wrote in a post on BlogWorld last week, even the most moribund of blogs may not be beyond resuscitation (and she offered a few suggestions for virtual CPR).

If you’re starting to notice the unpleasant smell of decay whenever you visit your blog, here are a few more ideas for bringing it back to life:

  • Redefine the subject. If your interests have changed, then let your readers know you’ll be introducing a new topic, and shifting the emphasis there.
  • Redefine the scope. If your blog died because you couldn’t keep up with the expectations you set around frequency, depth or comprehensiveness, then dial that back. Focus your energies more narrowly. Maybe instead of daily wall-to-wall coverage of a subject, you want to post twice a week on one aspect of it – and one of those posts is a collection of links, instead of your usual 20-paragraph essays.
  • Call in reinforcements. If you don’t think you can do it alone, but you have one or more colleagues or friends with similar interests and solid blogging skills, see if they’d be interested in joining your blog. The mutual encouragement can go a long way to getting you past a slump.
  • Hand it over. Find someone who shares your passion – or the passion you once had – and transfer the blog to them. You’ll know that all your hard work will still be alive and appreciated; they’ll be able to launch with a built-in readership and traffic stream to build on.

Still not feeling it? If you’re sure it’s time to close the doors and turn off the lights, then go ahead. But let your readers know you’re doing it. And give serious consideration to keeping your blog online (with comments switched off if you don’t plan to reply to them, or weed out spam). It’ll serve as a resource for others… and, if your interest should be rekindled or your spare time suddenly reappear, you’ve left the door open to a return from the grave.

Blogging for Dummies

Blogging for Dummies published on No Comments on Blogging for Dummies

(cartoon also posted on Blogworld)

The debate over whether CEOs and other prominent folks should hire ghostwriters to blog for them is a thorny one.

On the one hand, blogging culture is conversational and personal; we assume we’re having a discussion with the real person, and not with an intermediary.

On the other hand, intermediaries are the rule, not the exception, when it comes to VIPs on nearly every other communications channel. Op-ed pieces and letters to the editor that bear their names are usually drafted by PR or legal departments. Underlings draft correspondence for senior executives, and then run it through signature machines (which, incidentally, are amazing to watch in action, in a steampunk kind of way). Speechwriters – you get the picture.

I suspect that if they could get away with it, a lot of executives would delegate things like quarterly earnings conference calls. (“You! Yeah, you – the guy who was imitating Steve Ballmer at last year’s Christmas party. How’d you like to try doing that again?”)

Back on that first hand, though, is the argument that blogs and other social media aren’t just any business communications channel. They’re personal. And if you want to build a relationship of trust, then you’ll need a level of both personal connection and transparency.

Which is why I think there’s a lot to say for Shel Holtz’s suggested compromise (which he wrote as someone who opposes ghost-written blogs, but acknowledges they may be inevitable):

And if a business leader ultimately does opt to have someone else handle the writing of the blog, he should disclose it. What’s the harm in a statement like this on an executive blog: “Welcome to my blog. Several times each week, I articulate my thoughts to Mary Jones, who runs communications for the company, and she posts them here ensuring that I make the points I want to make. But rest assured, while Mary makes me sound better, the messages you read are mine; they come from my heart and I read all the comments myself.”

Maybe we’ll start hearing the same thing in other channels. Such as speeches: “Before I begin, in the interests of full disclosure, I talked to my director of communications for about four minutes about this speech, and the broad structure. I understand it went through eighteen revisions, twelve of them pointless, although I had an opportunity for input in only two, and in each case, the draft sat on my desk untouched for three days. A complete list of the nearly two hundred people who drafted, edited, altered or redacted portions of this speech is available on our web site.

“I was supposed to read it on my flight over, but the inflight movie was Iron Man 2, and I got sucked into it. I couldn’t read it in the cab, because I get motion sick, and I fell asleep in my hotel room last night just before I was going to read it over. Therefore, like you, I can’t wait to find out what I’m about to say.”

Beyond free diapers

Beyond free diapers published on 3 Comments on Beyond free diapers

The conversation about conflict of interest for bloggers (and other social media types) never really dies down, and flares up constantly in ways large and small.

Sometimes it’s something as major as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission going after blogger freebies. Sometimes it’s just a drive-by accusation that a blog post is “link bait”, and not a useful or genuine contribution to the conversation.

The common thread is this: What responsibility we have to our audiences, when are our own interests in conflict with theirs, and what do we do when that happens?

Transparency is one answer. Disclose your interest, and all – hopefully – will be forgiven. (Jeannine Schafer drew some great disclosure notifications on LouisGray.com.)

And a little reader due-diligence doesn’t hurt, either. Knowing that a blogger is a political activist, or a real estate agent, or a (ahem) social media strategist means you can assess what you’re reading with some knowledge of their agenda. (Even the most well-intentioned among us writes with part of our mind attuned to the potential impact on things we value – whether it’s a social cause, our social standing, or a business bottom line.)

Still, I like to suspend my skepticism once in a while. Because one of the things that makes social media so valuable is the chance to connect with genuine human beings, expressing themselves in ways that aren’t the result of careful calculations of strategic interests, sales trajectories, keyword analysis or free samples of probiotic yogurt drinks.

And digging for that conflict of interest, while it may protect me from being taken for a ride, also means approaching social interactions with a degree of suspicion… which is a shaky start to a new relationship.

Yes, maybe a blogger’s angling for trinkets or traffic. But maybe they’re expressing a deeply-held passion. And maybe it’s a little of both. Somewhere, there has to be a balance between the benefit of the doubt and a healthy skepticism.

A is for audience

A is for audience published on 1 Comment on A is for audience

Or the people formerly known as the audience, anyway.

Some news: in the run-up to BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2010, I’ll be cartoon-blogging on their site (and at the event itself). This is the first cartoon there – do drop by and let them know if you like it!

Oh, and one more thing… this is cartoon number 300. Everyone gets the day off to celebrate.

Just between you and me (and the entire Internet)

Just between you and me (and the entire Internet) published on 5 Comments on Just between you and me (and the entire Internet)

Are you finding the same thing I am? Where you’re having a casual conversation with a friend, and you’re in the middle of saying something… well, not exactly secret, but not the sort of thing you want shared with the world… and you stop dead, suddenly worried that it might end up in their Twitter stream?

When I’m talking to someone with a blog, a Twitter feed or even a Facebook account (which, these days, means nearly everyone), I’m often just a little guarded. I have my own guidelines and boundaries when I’m dealing with other people’s information – basically, if there’s any ambiguity, I ask permission before I share – but I know other people draw the line differently.

Sometimes they’ll reveal a confidence but change a few details to protect identities. Or maybe they’d never do that, but they’ll readily tag an embarrassing party photo of you on Facebook.

While some people lay down hard and fast rules about the new online etiquette, the reality is things are still a lot more fluid than many of us realize. You’ve just had lunch with a potential client; do you tweet that? You shot a hilarious video at the company picnic; do you upload it? And do we all just assume we’re all on the record, 24-7, until and unless we agree otherwise?

Several years into the social media revolution, we’re still only making baby steps toward some kind of shared understanding of the terrain we’re walking on together. And in some ways, netiquette seems as nebulous a concept as ever.

No comment.

No comment. published on 11 Comments on No comment.Purchase print

Not that long ago, you’d write a blog post and a handful of people might comment on it. Some of those comments might be one-line approval or disagreement, but others would go some length to engage with what you’d said.

These days, though, I’m finding you’re more likely to get a retweet: “RT”, title of your blog post, and link.

Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing those. Love, love, love them. By all means, retweet away.

But what blog comments give you that retweets can’t (unless the retweeter opts out of Twitter’s retweeting feature to add a few words of their own) is conversation. I love to hear what people thought of what I said. I love for them to agree, disagree, point me to new ideas, or take an idea and run with it. And while we can do that to some degree on Twitter, the 140-character wall is pretty limiting.

I’ve been pretty lucky, actually; since I launched the cartoon, I’ve been attracting a small but growing number of deeply-appreciated comments. I have a few tools that let me import related tweets into the comment stream. And Twitter brings a lot of people here.

I’m hoping that continues… but I have a feeling that bloggers everywhere have to adjust to a world where Twitter means blog comments, and the rich conversation that can come with them, are the exception.

What do you think? Have you seen comments drop off on your blog? And if so, is Twitter the issue, or is something else at work? Comment below… or tweet me.

(P.S. – Was I clear enough about liking the retweets? No? I LIKE THE RETWEETS.)

Archived at The WayWayWayWayback Machine

Archived at The WayWayWayWayback Machine published on No Comments on Archived at The WayWayWayWayback Machine

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present…. the first ever abandoned blog. (That’s what you get for using ghost-bloggers. Well, in his day, probably slave-bloggers, actually.)

Hey, have you pledged to blog about women and technology on Ada Lovelace day yet?

Update: Over on the N2S Facebook Fan Page, a discussion led to the following:

“There once was a blogger named Oz / Whose empire vanished because / His follower count / was the only amount / by which he would measure his flaws.”

Every day is Blog Inaction Day!

Every day is Blog Inaction Day! published on No Comments on Every day is Blog Inaction Day!

I’d feel better about this cartoon if not for the fact that it was my only contribution to Blogger Action Day.

Blogging was made possible by…

Blogging was made possible by… published on No Comments on Blogging was made possible by…

The new FTC guidelines for disclosure by bloggers have stirred up some anger among bloggers accustomed to getting free stuff and blogging about it without the heavy hand of governmental Big Brother yadda yadda – oh, you can finish the sentence yourself.

I can respect that it might get people’s backs up to suggest that their integrity is for sale, especially for such low prices. (Although, the last time I checked the exchange rate, integrity was down sharply against the dollar… and against the free chewing gum.) Then again, I’ve seen enough obviously feigned enthusiasm in some “reviews” to convince me that at least a few bloggers are happy to rent their voices – and readers – to any marketing department with a gift card and blogger outreach program.

All easy enough for me to say, of course; I have a job and make a pretty good living (touch wood). I can imagine that I might be tempted to modify my views if money was short and a blog review could put another meal on the table for my kids. Then again, for every blogger out there who’s struggling to make ends meet, there are countless more blog readers – the people the marketers are really trying to reach. Don’t they deserve to know about the relationship between product and blogger when they assess what they’re reading?

I’m a fan of disclosure, and while I haven’t examined the FTC guidelines in detail, I support the idea in principle.

But it’s interesting that the FTC went after bloggers rather than, say, entertainment writers who don’t mention the expensive junkets that movie studios take them on. A blogger who has to disclose that she or he received a free package of hot dog weiners has every right to feel burned after dropping fifty bucks to take the family to the latest “THRILLING!” “FANTASTIC!” “SURE-FIRE WINNER!”

When Yelp cuts both ways

When Yelp cuts both ways published on No Comments on When Yelp cuts both ways

2007-11-06-trackback

2007-11-06-trackback published on No Comments on 2007-11-06-trackbackPurchase print

2007-05-27-more-like-a-blog

2007-05-27-more-like-a-blog published on Purchase print

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