20th anniversary of the blog

The Guardian had a short piece celebrating the inventor of the blog, Dave Winer.

Twenty years ago this week, a software developer in California ushered in a new era in how we communicate. His name is Dave Winer and on 7 October 1994 he published his first blog post. He called it Davenet then, and he’s been writing it most days since then. In the process, he has become one of the internet’s elders, as eminent in his way as Vint Cerf, Dave Clark,Doc Searls, Lawrence Lessig, Dave Weinberger or even Tim Berners-Lee.

Naturally, Dave also had a personal reflection on pros and cons of his 20 years of blogging.

In 20 years of blogging and developing software for blogging, you meet a lot of people, and some of them do share love with you. To me that was always the wonder of blogging. I remember very clearly, in 1999 or 2000, looking at a blogroll and seeing dozens of names, mostly people I had never heard of, all of whom had blogs. It was at that moment that I realized that it had worked. But I was in for a rude shock when I clicked the links, they were all talking about me, and they didn’t like me! Oy.

Not yet a writer

I understand I have a lot of work to do to become the writer I want to be. Words and pages are not enough. Although, that would be a good start. No, thoughts and well expressed ideas are what I’m after. I am not sure that I am prepared to think like a writer. I know I don’t have the habits developed yet. One step at a time, I know. But I have in mind what I want to be: I want to be able to sit quietly and think to myself about my subject and then open up a blank document and write what I think. 


Right now, I don’t think much or write, but I am actively trying to change that. You see, I believe the world’s greatest thinkers were skilled writers, and the greatest writers were deep thinkers. It may be a chicken and egg situation, but my plan is to attack both fronts at once to make myself into what I want to be.

Parts of these first few posts are going to come across like pages from a journal, which is not what this site will become. However, I also want my writing to come across naturally, without forcing too much onto the page. And if I’m currently an immature thinker, then that will be what comes out until my mind grows up.

I’ll develop a mature voice, I’m sure, as I write more regularly and think more deeply before and during my process. Until then I’ll have to put up with the silly kid that thinks he has something to say. My hope, though, is that this site will provide that linear path of a voice maturing. 

How to develop a healthy information diet

 
I’m feeling fat, so I think it’s time to go on a diet.
 
Not literally. I feel I’ve made great progress over the past several months in my eating habits, but with my consumption of food under much greater control, it’s becoming time to take the reins and get my information consumption under control.
 
Apparently, we now live in the information age, and each day there is an overwhelming amount to consume. It is becoming clear that I need work on developing a healthy information diet. 
 
I have a tendency to go through cycles where I binge on the Internet, and then try to cut back drastically. It doesn’t seems to be the most effective method constantly flip flopping between reading and looking at everything in sight and trying to radically reduce my inbox and RSS feed subscriptions.
 
I’m thinking now I need to find a better and more sustainable balance between the extremes of binging and anorexia.
 
Where this will lead is the big question: What is information for?
 

You don’t have to starve yourself

First, this doesn’t have to be unpleasant. I’m not prepared to come out and advocate for myself or you a low information diet. This is partly because of how much I enjoy most of what I read and watch, but also because I think a lot of the information I consume does have its place in my day and value for me.
 
However, there is also the fries and burgers of my daily dose that I can probably do without. I have no plans to ever give up burger and fries completely, but they work well for the point I’m illustrating. Some foods are not as good for you as others. 
 
Finding the good ones that agree with you and denying yourself the pleasures of the others is difficult but possible. To be healthy, it is not necessary to outlaw the good tasting foods that are bad for you. It is over the top to only select fat free, low carb, low sodium, high fiber fare for each meal, but developing a healthy balance is just the ticket. 
 
 
There’s no right amount
 
There really is no clean cut answer as to how much information is the right amount of information. Again, this is very similar to any diet of food. The correct amount of information to consume depends entirely on the situation and the individuals’ desired outcomes. 
 
Michael Phelps has to consume thousands of calories per day while in training to be able to perform as he does. Models, such as Filippa Hamilton, don’t have the same luxury. They are after something else entirely.  
 
I’m sure the editors at Lifehacker have to have a very different level of information consumption to produce their massive site of useful information than that Leo Babauta needs to write his insightful posts for Mnmlist
 
The input for both of these examples is, I’m sure, in direct proportion to the desired output. One is not superior to the other. They are just different and are tailored to meet the specific needs. 
 
  
Balance is the key
 
The most important thing to find in developing a healthy information diet is the right balance. 
 
Information consumption is no different than eating in this respect. Everything that goes in must come in and be digested. Then, it will either be used or discarded. 
 
The correct balance is entirely dependent upon what you want to do with the information. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to consume everything you can about your subject so that you can write on it competently. If you’re an athlete, you’ll want to know about your sport so you can find your edge. 
 
Consuming too much information without proper digestion will lead to indigestion or waste. Neither is good. 
 
 
Three stages of an information diet:
 
1. Input: This is everything you read, see, watch, or listen to. This can be controlled by deciding what books you read, what shows you watch, which RSS feeds you subscribe to, and the music you listen to. This is also the part we only have partial control of. There are thousands of voices fighting for our attention each day. It is impossible to tune in to them all. It is also impossible to tune them all out. But it is possible to filter and highlight the things you want while blocking what you don’t.
 
2. Reflection: This is the step where you digest everything that comes in. This can include a song getting stuck in you head, a topic that inspired another idea or project or the simple enjoyment of remembering what you watched or read. It doesn’t have to be anything too deep. This stage of reflection is just the internalizing of what came in your mind.
 
3. Output: This is the final component of a balanced information diet. Everything that goes in will come out one way or the other. There is three possibilities in this stage. It can either come out in a productive and enriching way, go to your thighs, or it can simply be forgotten and wasted. Athletes use the food they eat to drive their performance. Couch potatoes don’t, and the end results are visible. Some information can also just be forgotten and lost forever. Hopefully it was enjoyable the first time around, other it was kind of pointless.
 
 
You are what you eat
 
Since everything that comes in will eventually come out, it is important to remember that you are what you eat. The information that you consume becomes a part of you. This can make you better or it can make you worse, depending on what you let in and how you use it. 
 
You can have a significant impact on your outcomes by wisely discerning and using what you consume. To do this you need to: 
  1. Know what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Decide what you need to know to achieve it, and ignore the rest.
  3. Learn to determine how to best use the information you receive.
  4. Adequately reflect on the information before acting on it.
  5. Act on what you learn.
 
Have fun
 
A healthy information diet does not have to be austere and boring. Some of what we eat can still be just for fun: a bowl of ice cream, a scoop of cookie dough. It’s the same thing with an information diet. It can be for it’s own sake, but too much will make you fat.  
 

What goes in will come out

My struggle is the beginning, middle, and end. I have a hard time coming up with what I’m going to write about. Once I’ve figured that part out, I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words. And after I have something down on paper, I have a difficult time accepting that what I have written is of any value.

However, this is my only obstacle to becoming a writer. It doesn’t take as much time as I once thought because, it seems, no one is out there trying to write the next Moby
 Dick. It no longer takes 1,000 pages to tell a story or to make a philosophical point about the human condition. I don’t know that it ever did, but the way most readers consume information now has changed, and writing has had to change to keep up.

I’m thankful. I have a difficult enough time settling on a topic for a 1,000 word post that will take me less than an hour to complete. I don’t know how I would ever be able to commit to a project whose end goal would be a five-pound tome.

This, however, does not provide an excuse for a decline in quality, even though I would be hard pressed to find someone who could argue convincingly that the quality of writing and thought in one of the new releases at Barns and Nobel or one of the books on Amazon’s top 100 could even begin to rival one of the classics in its command of the English language.


It would seem that if the scope of the work I am trying to accomplish is so much narrower, and so much shorter, that I’d be able to make up some of the ground in quality. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

How does a writer of a classic think during their writing process? How do they go about developing their story or crafting their sentences? It can’t be that much different than today. However, I suppose, garbage in garbage out. I’m sure the classic writers and thinkers had a much healthier diet of reading and information than I have today.

This is an external factor that I feel like I can do something about. There are a lot of messages thrown at me every day. Many marketers are fighting for my attention, and I’ve subscribed myself to many things that I find interesting and enjoyable, but, if this information diet is turning my stomach, polluting my mind, and hindering my writing, it may be time for some changes.

It isn’t realistic, practical, or helpful to pull the plug entirely. There is still the needed flow of input needed for processing, digestion, and good quality out put, but if so much time is taken at the top of the funnel, the second two stages suffer. 

What I need to develop is a more steady flow of information in, time to process and reflect, and written output at the other end. I need to turn this funnel into a cylinder with a fat middle. I actually believe that the middle, right now, is the narrowest part of the process.


Several of my writing, including this one, have begun without proper digestion in the middle. Fortunately, this one has developed into some well formed thought and reflections, and has led me to a few other ideas for posts that I will have to write: How to develop a healthy diet of information; How to develop a good balance between input, reflection, and output; and How to achieve the desired output by controlling inputs. 

New blog design released

I’ve made some radical changes to my blog template, and I think I’ve just about configured it the way I want. That’s kind of a scary thing. I mean, once I have the template figured out, the only blogging activity I’ll be able to participate in is actually writing.
So far I’ve successfully avoided the actual work and thinking that this hobby and project will require. However, I’m ready for the change. I think it will be much more fun to write, create, and market my creation than it was just to pick out the template and fiddle with the colors and configurations.
Last night and today, I just went looking for things to tweek and change, but with such a simple and clean design it becomes harder and harder to do. Actually, I might be finished.

Writing in specifics

It’s not the job of the writer to rehash old ideas, and consolidate them into broad general statements, as much as it is to uncover new ideas through the general and collective knowledge that is already present in the world. Now finding that new knowledge, within the collective knowledge, is a skill that is not natural to the thought process. It takes a conscious uncovering in order to develop and nurture the traits before one can effectively find those new ideas even if they’re in plain sight.

With the dawn of the Internet the sharing of ideas has become easier and much more accessible to a larger number of individuals. This has exponentially grown the pool of collective knowledge, and exponentially increased the way that that pool can be accessed, studied, and grown.

 

I see it as my task as a writer to reach into that pool or even to dive right in, swim around, see what I find, and discover the unknown creatures that reside within. I’m not sure that this is a task that I’m up for or qualified for, but it is something I have a passion for.
Who am I to write these things? That’s what I’m trying to find out. And as I go forward, I understand that it will be a challenge to write in specifics about specific subject rather than flirt with the obscure, use vague generalities, or broad sweeping statements. I have a tendency to use the word ‘everything’ or ‘everyone’ which really don’t have any place in good specific writing.
What this is about, then, is developing the skills and disciplines to write well about something specific. This is a simple process: pick something to write about, and while you’re writing about it, don’t write about anything else. I am not good at this yet because I struggle so much with the first step.
However, I’m starting to hone in my subject matter and am finding it easier to pick a subject and complete a post on it. It is more challenging for me than I imagine it is for other writers, but that doesn’t bother me. The time and effort it takes to produce is ultimately not the important thing. Rather, the finished product is what matters. And this is only the beginning of what I hope will be a long and splendid journey.

Don’t Wait to Start

That big idea always strikes unexpectedly and with little warning. There is a flash of inspiration and the burning desire to act.


Recently, I had the inspiration to start this blog. It emerged from my memories of how I loved to write in high school and college. In high school I fancied myself a poet, and that continued through college, where I majored in writing. As a newspaper reporter, I felt right at home writing every day for a living.


Then I stopped. Apart from the occasional paper in grad school, I wrote almost nothing.
And now I’ve started again.


However, I’ve had to start again gradually. My day-to-day schedule is no longer that of a high school student and even less that of a college student.


I can’t drop everything in my life to follow on this urge. But I shouldn’t put it off.


The most important thing to do in a situation like this is to just start. Rather than sitting around and thinking about it, or even going through a detailed and scrupulous planning process, just start.


The details will come as they do and muddy up the original vision. This doesn’t have to halt or even change the original intention.


When you have an idea, act on it quickly before the initial excitement and passion gets drowned out by every excuse that arises.

The Blog…A Few Introductory Notes

I’d write more about myself, but I’m really not that interested in the subject. I’m worried that will show up in my writing and bore my readers. So, rather than take that risk, I’ll stick to a wider range of subjects to deliberately exclude talking about me. What will those subjects be? That is still to be determined. But, by avoiding talking about myself, I think I’ll be able to keep things interesting and keep the audience engaged.

That’s rule one. Until I become an interesting subject, there’s no use writing about me. Maybe in the course of writing about other subjects I’ll emerge as a subject of my own. However, I’m not counting on it and neither should you.

Something else I’ve been trying to accomplish is to develop a list of rules for this blog. These are something that I’ll want my readers (or at least my wife for now) to hold me to. Breaking rules is all well and good, but unless I have have boundaries, I can’t push them, and unless I have rules, well, I just won’t get anything done. So here it goes an attempt at some rules (read ‘guidelines’) for me to follow (read ‘fail at’).

The first one has already been covered: don’t bore the readers by talking about a boring person. So don’t try to be clever and point out that the rules are numbered incorrectly. The rest follows…

Blog Rules:

2. Post my big article every week before midnight on Sunday.
Having a schedule is important to me. If this blog has any readers, I fully expect them to post mean comments calling me a lazy, good for nothing bum if the post comes out on Monday morning. With difficulty,

3. The big weekly article will be over 1,000 words.
This isn’t to show off how many words I can write, or to write for it’s own sake. But if a picture is worth a thousand, then a completed post should be as well. This will also keep me from cheating, and cutting corners by publishing an 12:55 p.m. post about what I had for lunch. Unless, that is, the composition of my sandwich revealed to me some deeper revelation into the nature of God and the meaning of the universe. I don’t think I’m shooting too high with going for a particular number. I just want to make sure that each time I put my mind to an idea that I will cover it adequately. There are many subjects that can be covered in far fewer words, but many more where 1,000 words will not even scratch the surface.

4. Each article will have a clearly defined and focused topic.
1,000 words is easy if they’re not all about the same subject. This will continue to be one of the most challenging aspects of this work. Keeping my mind on one topic for any period of time is nearly impossible.

5. Don’t be boring.
What does it take to be a witty writer? Wit, I suppose, for starters. But behind the pen or keyboard I can fake it. I may take three days to perfect a line, but when you, dear reader, pass your eyes across the page it will appear that I am quick and clever…Or you’ll see me trying to hard to be liked and accepted by the Internet.

There so many flashes of information and inputs from every corner of the web that it can be intimidating to try to join in the conversation. I worry at times that I’ll just be adding to the noise rather than contributing anything new.

That’s where you come in. From time to time I do struggle to come up with interesting topics to write about, so any feedback and suggestions will be welcome and well received. And also, if I write about thing of which you have no interest, let me know.

This blog is not for everyone. Really, everyone does not exist. There is no subject suited to the whole population of the world. I would much rather have the right people reading, than have the whole world tuning in each week.

Who is the right audience? People who can read English, for starters. It not that I have anything against other languages. I’m just not confident that Google Translate can pick up on my cultural nuances and make a clean switch between English and Belarusian. Still, that’s far to broad.

But rather than try to tell you if you should be reading this or not, I’ll leave it up to you. All I can ask is that you give it a chance. Maybe read a few posts and see if it’s right. If not, my feelings won’t be hurt. It’s a big Internet and I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Right now my wife is my only reader, so far. I haven’t even told my mom about it yet. It’s difficult enough to explain the technology and the medium, much less to let her know why I’d want to spend my time on it. I can’t say either why, exactly, I find this to be something worth spending my leisure hours with.

It’s probably not worth it–unless I can convince other bloggers that I can teach them how to make money on their blogs, and pay me for my secrets. I’m thoroughly convinced that that is the best way to make money as a blogger. The demand is certainly there.

Oops. It looks like more of this has been about me than I intended. In spite of my promises at the beginning of this post to not talk too much about myself, looking back over what I’ve written, I see I’ve still revealed some things. I guess that means I’ll have to make up one more rule. I do promise to try to be myself because, like Oscar Wilde observed, I’ll have to be myself because no one else is available.

Well, it looks like I’m getting to that 1,000 word minimum. Better to cut things off now than let things get out of control. There’s no use rambling. At least not if I want you to read again.