Category Archives: Asides

Little things worth saving.

As an aside to the previous link, I wish Matter did a more effective job of showing the work that goes in to their long posts on Medium. Each feature length story is well crafted from a narrative standpoint. Each comes up short, though, in pushing the boundaries of journalism.

In that feature the author writes of how:

Each night I’ve gone through my notes and fact-checked the farmers, doubting what they told me. Even after seeing the land and meeting the people I second-guessed their claims and statistics, only to find, time and again, they were telling the truth.

I wish that work was made transparent. Having grown up outside the Central Valley the narrative had me questioning many aspects of it.

Great journalism doesn’t mean pushing all the fact checking on to the reader. Nor does it mean blindly trusting that the author is presenting things fairly. I ought to be able to read the constructed narrative while simultaneously having the source material at my fingertips to dive in to and draw my own conclusions from.

In Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away, Clay Shirky writes about banning laptops from his fall seminar class. Toward the end of the piece he writes that:

Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer internet go.

That’s the problem in banning them, though. Productive, non-distracted, work from a computer is a cornerstone of modern work. Removing laptops from the college classroom addresses the symptom while doing nothing for the root cause.

Clay acknowledges in his post that computers can allow for a focus so deep you lose track of time. I agree that’s not inherent, though. Rather, it’s a learned skill. If we’re going to ban laptops from college classrooms because students lack that skill we have to also ask when and where that should be taught. Teaching that level of device literacy needs to happen somewhere in the education system.

I talked with Chase Clemons on his Support Ops podcast yesterday about how we run support at Automattic. We talked a lot about live chat support and how we manage a team of 40+ Happiness Engineers.

It was a live Google Hangout so you can watch the video below:

I had a fun time talking with Scott Tran about the support team at Automattic. The podcast is about 40 minutes and we covered everything from hiring to team structure to the type of culture we value. It’s live now over on Scott’s site.

This was my first time recording a podcast and it was a lot of fun. Scott has other interviews that focus on support at companies like Basecamp, Olark, and Zapier. If you’re interested you should give them a listen.

The qualities of a great WordPress contributor. A fantastic post from Andrew Nacin about the values, processes, and mindsets that go in to crafting WordPress. There’s a lot in the post and perhaps my favorite bit is:

What does describe WordPress well is that it’s more communication than code. I think this is also incredibly healthy. Communication and collaboration are the lifeblood for an open source project.

Nacin’s post is a testament to that, I think.

Later this year I’ll be speaking at UserConf in San Francisco. If you work or are interested in the world of customer support I’d highly recommend going.

Curious what previous UserConfs have been like? In a word they’re awesome. I wrote up notes from last year’s San Francisco conference. I also heard rave reviews from team members at Automattic who went to May’s UserConf in New York.

And, if you use the coupon code andrewlovesyou you’ll save $50. Pretty great deal!

I wish I had all my notes from college in plaintext Markdown-formatted files. As I get back in to reading more difficult texts I’m writing up chapter notes in nvALT.

The more I do this, the more I find myself going back to them and searching for previously noted phrases, definitions, or quotes. My reminiscent wish is for nvALT to be a single data store for all my reading annotations. The problem is I have all these NeoOffice and Pages files from college.

What is the business of literature?, by Richard Nash, is one of my all-time favorite essays about authorship and publishing. The entire piece is phenomenal and this bit was perhaps my favorite:

It was a sign, almost one hundred years ago, of the book beginning to achieve what most technology will never accomplish—the ability to disappear. Walk into the reading room of the New York Public Library and what do you see? Laptops. Books, like the tables and chairs, have receded into the backdrop of human life. This has nothing to do with the assertion that the book is counter-technology, but that the book is a technology so pervasive, so frequently iterated and innovated upon, so worn and polished by centuries of human contact, that it reaches the status of Nature.

Add that to Instapaper and settle in for some thought-provoking reading.

Bonus link on a related note is Fetishizing the Text, by Kieran Healy.

Nicholas Carr writes of a study that shows students still prefer printed texts:

What’s most revealing about this study is that, like earlier research, it suggests that students’ preference for printed textbooks reflects the real pedagogical advantages they experience in using the format: fewer distractions, deeper engagement, better comprehension and retention, and greater flexibility to accommodating idiosyncratic study habits.

Or, put another way, it shows that students who were taught to read through printed texts still have a bias toward that medium as they grow older. Humans are highly adaptable creatures and I’d bet the preference these students have is more a result of pedagogy than the inherent values of digital texts.

I think we won’t truly see the effects of digital books until these studies focus on students who learned to read on digital devices. In other words, people who don’t look at an iPad or Kindle as an e-book but, rather, just as how you read.

Listening to @informative talk about content strategy at the WordPress meetup tonight. The approach of first considering what questions your content has to answer seems particularly useful for support documentation. By laying the groundwork for questions first, it makes the writing more effective.