I’m settling into a new routine this week.
Every morning, after taking the pup out for a walk, I hop on my bike and head down to Nostalgia Coffee Co., an independent coffee shop in the Topham Park neighbourhood of East York.
I get my coffee (large dark roast) and sit outside for a few hours of reading and writing. It’s the best part of my day. These early hours are my most productive – the west coast isn’t up yet and I avoid Slack until lunchtime.
I’m starting to recognize some of the regulars. My guess is they’re folks from around the area who, like me, have made this part of their daily ritual.
There are the seniors from Canadian Macedonian Place across the road, jaywalking through traffic without a care. Then there’s the Parkview families coming up from St. Clair, dogs and kids in tow. And every now and then I’ll spot a cyclist riding north from Woodbine.
Nostalgia is a warm and inviting space filled with quirky memorabilia. One wall is covered in flyers and cards from local residents and business owners. The opposite wall is full of menu items scrawled out by hand with colourful chalk.
I feel like these little brick n’ mortar establishments are responsible for keeping communities alive. Starbucks refers to them as “The Third Place”, and while Starbucks does a good job of mimicking the experience, they can’t replicate it. Not completely.
Not everyone appreciates that people like myself popping into these “Third Places” for a multi-hour working session. Some cafes are pushing back, banning laptops and covering outlets.
But that’s fine – there are plenty of other places that’ll embrace us, and I’m happy to spend my money with them.
Sidenote: As a remote worker, Nostalgia is more of my Second Place than my Third Place. I work from home, so Nostalgia is one of my few chances to get out of the house while still getting work done.
I caught up on a lot of reading this week. But as much as I enjoy it, I think I need to ease off on the article consumption in August.
I’ve got a small stack of books to get through, and I’m not going to make any progress if I keep adding new articles to the pile.
“Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. And when preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.”– James Clear
Let’s get to the list.
Content / Commerce
Atomizing content at scale: “There is an enormous amount of content that can be mined from the big pieces of content that sit at the top. It’s the hacking of the mothership-content into micro-content.” I’m not the Vaynerchuk fan I used to be, but I still appreciate his tactical advice.
Writing for pay scale personas: “The hierarchy of a company represents more than pay scale, but it’s a pretty good place to start building personas. The people at the top think differently than the people near the bottom. They don’t need information—that’s been commoditized. In general, the higher in the food chain a person is, the more strategic their thinking is.”
The issue of commoditized content: “Content marketing is too often tasked to the people in a company with the least subject matter expertise. When people with little subject matter expertise write content, you end up with a commodity. Any company can get similar work done for a small price. And readers have an abundance of similar content to choose from.”
Writing for a purpose: “Writing professional articles is not about self-expression—it’s about helping and serving your readers. The more clear and concise the content you offer, the more your article will be read and shared.”
Weak content hurts your website: “Weak content and pages that see little to no traffic water down your site. As we’ve written before about content overproduction, too much content creates a number of issues related to both search and user experience.”
Writing effective content for customers: “Schedule time with different people on your customer-facing teams once or twice a month. Ask them what topics your leads and customers have been asking about lately. Ask them what parts of your industry, service, or product have been confusing their prospects and customers.”
What we can learn from self-help books: “Considering the jobs our customers are hiring us to do forces us to consider not our own strategic needs, but rather how we can address our customers’ needs instead.”
Hire experts to steer your content: “The freelance journalists and editors we hire serve as sherpas, helping us find interesting narratives in the labyrinth of angles and ideas across our ecosystem.”
Break long forms into steps to increase conversions: “Instead of having one page and one form to capture leads, you spread the form fields across two or more steps. So potential leads that visit the first page via your ads will fill in a short form and, after clicking the CTA button, they’re directed to the next step.”
Optimizing websites for conversation: “If all your website does it optimise for conversion, it does so at the expense of conversations which may have influenced future purchase decisions. You’re optimising inwards, rather than outwards.”
Designing & sticking with lead gen experiments: “Every experiment needs to start with a hypothesis — a prediction or educated guess — which can be tested. Liz recommends a statement instead of a question, and this is where the source of discipline will originate as it helps bring focus to your work.”
Dig deeper in your growth tests: “A lot of teams take a shotgun approach to growth by trying a little bit of everything, but never a lot of one thing. It is harder to focus than it is to try everything. As a result they end up just scratching the surface rather than digging a layer deeper to find what really works.”
Pair testimonials with the right sales page: “The best way to use a testimonial is to pair it with the appropriate copy. If it’s a testimonial about how easy and fast a customer received their product, use that on a shipping page. If it’s a testimonial about how a product solved a problem they had, use it on that product page. This will enhance your copy and help to alleviate any anxieties a prospective customer has with their decision to purchase.”
Pricing your work: “As you can see, it ain’t cheap running your own business, even if it’s small. Costs need to be factored in, and definitely have an impact on your bottom line. A lot of new freelancers or entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking they can afford to charge less than their competition.”
Know your customers: “Customer intimacy is a measure of your awareness of — and alignment with — your customers’ needs and values. Customer intimacy goes beyond talking to customers. It’s about a two-way connection: their perception matters. And you can’t be customer centric without cultivating customer intimacy.”
Contextual customer support: “But what if self-service content could be served to customers in context, inside the messenger they’re already reaching to for help? What if it were possible to answer a customer’s question before they ask it?”
Customer retention via docs: “Although their job are different, great help articles are like evergreen blog posts – if they provide your customers with actionable value and are periodically refreshed, they’ll continue to benefit your business long after the publish date.”
Backlinko’s updated guide to growing site traffic: “In this post I’m going to show you how to drive more traffic to your website. You’ll also see how I used these strategies to take my site from zero to 180k+ unique visitors per month.” (Kudos to Brian Dean for building out a small site — in terms of page number — with evergreen guides that he can update once per year.)
A new source of traffic for publishers: “Google Chrome’s Articles for You (also known as “Chrome Content Suggestions” or “Chrome Suggestions”) is one of the fastest growing sources of publisher traffic on the internet.”
The sudden success of Fortnite: “”Fortnite: Battle Royale,” the free video game mode that took the world by storm last Fall, is a billion dollar business. That’s according to a new report by SuperData, which estimates that the game has generated more than $1 billion in revenue across all platforms.” (Yes, virtual goods can be real business.)
Google flags HTTP sites as Not Secure: “Eventually, our goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. We will roll this out over time, starting by removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018. And in October 2018, we’ll start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.” (We’ve talked about this for months and it’s finally here. Related: HTTPS Everywhere, Let’s Encrypt)
A new data portability initiative: “The future of portability will need to be more inclusive, flexible, and open,” reads the white paper. “Our hope for this project is that it will enable a connection between any two public-facing product interfaces for importing and exporting data directly.”
The future of communication apps: “Beneath the rhetorical veneer of consumer empowerment one finds the petty tyranny of choice: freedom is reduced to deciding which app to trust with your dearest information.” (The learning curve for DIY solutions is too much for most people.)
Venmo’s public feed is a bad idea: “It shouldn’t be the burden of users to dig through their settings and find the menu where they can opt-in to privacy.” (Strava faced similar privacy problems early this year.)
Graphs, graphs everywhere: “Facebook has a social graph. It’s a map of human relationships. Google has what they call a knowledge graph. It’s a map of concepts and entities that let you answer questions. Pinterest wants to build a taste graph, which is a mapping of taste.”
The web’s broken recommendation engines: “Today, recommendation engines are perhaps the biggest threat to societal cohesion on the internet—and, as a result, one of the biggest threats to societal cohesion in the offline world, too.”
Which comes first – the users, or the ads? “Cynics might not believe it, but Google and Facebook didn’t adopt the free model in order to serve advertisers. On the contrary, they adopted the advertising model as a way to keep serving their users for free.”
A future beyond Facebook: “Tamping down the industry’s most extreme excesses through prudent regulation, including the occasional sweeping fine, might encourage more ethical behavior. These measures could also entrench the Facebook and Google duopoly, both of which boast bottomless fortunes and deep rosters of Beltway lobbyists.” (Something needs to be done, but how do you take action without crippling innovation?)
Facebook’s failure of governance: “A true platform is neutral, allowing all manner of actors to engage across it to connect and share value under a clear and consistent governance framework. The failure of Facebook’s platform was not a failure of the concept of a platform. It was a failure of Facebook’s governance of that platform.”
A platform isn’t a community: “Communities have two key characteristics: members have a shared sense of identity and participate in shared experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt a shared sense of identity with someone just because we’ve both used Facebook or Instagram or watched videos on YouTube. In Facebook’s case, it’s impossible for me to be in community with 2 billion people at a time.”
The future of AdTech: “Pro tip: if somebody says every ad needs to “perform,” or that the purpose of advertising is “to get the right message to the right person at the right time,” they’re actually talking about direct marketing, not advertising.”
The challenge of regulating advertising on social media: “A decade ago, teenagers primarily used social media to keep up with their friends and interests. In 2018, many see curating their accounts as a career and there is a growing ecosystem making this a major challenge for advertising regulators. Adverts are supposed to be identifiable, but influencers blur the lines with account pages built as shop windows on their lives.”
You can’t regulate what you don’t understand: “Whether it is Facebook or scooters in San Francisco, you can’t govern or write smart laws, if you don’t know anything about it.”
Local news sites replacing local newspapers: “Bottom line: While these efforts can’t fully replace the thousands of journalists being displaced from local newsrooms across the country, they are helping small communities access local news and information and, in some cases, are able to take coverage of certain topics or communities to the next level.”
The demise of local newspapers hurts city finances: “The professors compared neighboring counties with similar populations to try and strip out broader economic factors. They suggest that municipal finances worsen because the closure of local media outlets allows officials to become less efficient.”
Crowdsourcing capital for local media: “Local news around the U.S. is in peril, but Berkeleyside’s DPO shows that small sites can raise the capital they need to succeed from within their very own communities.”
WordPress wins because it’s open source: “What [competitors] miss is that WordPress isn’t a checklist of features. It’s over 29,000 plugins created by the community, from the in-demand things like SEO to niche features like using your 404 page to help adopt homeless dogs in Sweden. Every WordPress site looks different, because of the thousands of themes available.” (Fun fact: WordPress currently powers ~31% of the web.)
RSS needs to make a comeback: “The most amazing thing to me about RSS is that no one really went away from it,” says Wolf. “It still exists. Somehow through all of this. It’s crazy, in a way, that when you go away from RSS and then come back to it, it’s all still there.”
Toronto’s booming tech industry: “Toronto was the fastest-growing tech-jobs market in 2017, according to CBRE Group Inc.’s latest annual survey, released Tuesday. The city saw 28,900 tech jobs created, 14 percent more than in 2016, for a total of more than 241,000 workers, up 52 percent over the past five years, CBRE said. Downtown, tech accounted for more than a third of demand for office space.” (Related: Check out the discussion on Hacker News that picks these numbers apart.)
A dive into the history of Cherry mechanical keyboards: “It was the MX switch, a device that the company first built in the 1980s, that came to define the Cherry name. Patented in 1984, the device represented a culmination of much of the company’s work on switches as a form of input. Famously available in a wide array of colored variants denoting unique qualities of the switch—most notably the low-force Cherry MX Red, the clicky MX Blue, and the tactile-but-quieter MX Brown—the keys found interest among hardware tweakers and use in mainstream keyboards.”
The internet isn’t fun anymore: “And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. Forums were depopulated; blogs were shut down. Twitter, one agent of their death, became completely worthless: a water-drop-torture feed of performative outrage, self-promotion, and discussion of Twitter itself. Facebook had become, well … you’ve been on Facebook.”
Work / Life
Structuring meetings & workshops: “You can accommodate variations in people’s ability to use working memory by establishing a reasonable pace of information. The pace of information is directly connected to how well aligned attendees’ working memories become. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, you should set a pace that is deliberate, consistent, and slower than your normal pace of thought.”
Our responsibilities as remote workers: “Fellow remote workers — it’s on us to make sure that work keeps getting better for everyone. We can have a positive impact on so many lives. Reflect on your work. Learn. Improve. And share with others. Blog about it. Be a mentor. Nudge people. Have an open door.”
The freelance marketplace future: “New freelance marketplaces are emerging for just about every creative field you can think of. And a lot of these places are helping connect freelancers with work they normally wouldn’t be able to find.”
Deep work is crucial for success: “If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.”
The broken ideology of business schools: “An MBA class will consider a business issue—here, a specific company—in isolation. Its challenges are delineated; its society-level implications are waved away. The principals’ overriding goal—profit maximization—is assumed. With mechanical efficiency, students then answer the question of how to move forward. Individual choices are abstracted into numbers or modeled as graphs. If it becomes necessary to show the human side of an issue, a case study—that hollow hallmark of business school curriculum—will do the trick.”
The value of incremental gains: “Building a body of work (or a life) is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.”
Growth via deliberate practice: “What feels like struggle and frustration is often skill development and growth. What looks like little pay and no recognition is often the price you have to pay to discover your best work. In other words, what looks like failure is often the foundation of success.”
Give your crappy idea a shot: “The point of all this isn’t to berate anyone for their crappy ideas. In fact, just the opposite — the point is that it doesn’t matter what your first idea is. First, it’s probably wrong. Second, the only way to find the right one is to try the wrong one and see what happens. You won’t find it by fiddling around with PowerPoint slides and Photoshop mock-ups.”
Good strategies emphasize difference: “The best companies are emulated by those in the middle of the pack, and the worst exit or undergo significant reform. As each player responds to and learns from the actions of others, best practice becomes commonplace rather than a market-beating strategy. Good strategies emphasize difference—versus your direct competitors, versus potential substitutes, and versus potential entrants.”
The fallacy of using personal experiences to determine the future: “When everyone has experienced a fraction of what’s out there but uses those experiences to explain everything they expect to happen, a lot of people eventually become disappointed, confused, or dumbfounded at others’ decisions.”
Don’t automate your work when you’re just starting: “All automation loses nuance and nuance is literally all you have in the early days, so embrace it.”
We’ve forgotten silence: “As a society, we have forgotten how to become quiet, how to become still. We are always on the move, always busy, always doing. We’ve forgotten how to just be.”
What if we never retire? “Happy retirees have a strong sense of purpose without suffering from financial stress, and many fail to achieve either of those after leaving the world of work. So what if quitting wasn’t the goal?” (Related: There are different types of retirement.)
Post-Its are awesome: “Some argue that they are obsolete, overhyped, or useless. Wrong. While it’s easy to overuse your Post-it pads or use them at the wrong time or place, Post-its have many merits that make them hard to replace.”
Community / Culture
This week I learned about mukbang: “Mukbang [mʌk̚.p͈aŋ] (or muk-bang) is an online audiovisual broadcast in which a host eats large amounts of foods while interacting with their audience. Usually done through an internet webcast (such streaming platforms include Afreeca), mukbang became popular in South Korea in the 2010s. Foods ranging from pizza to noodles are consumed in front of a camera for an internet audience (who pay or not, depending on which platform one is watching).”
The real fake news: “A conservative news outlet spliced together a “satirical” interview with Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, published it on Facebook without noting it was satire, and racked up over a million views in less than 24 hours — many from people who appear convinced it’s real. The video is fake, and for the people who are taking it seriously, it’s news.”
The shifting meaning of community: “In 2018, it feels as if community is about being recognized as a certain kind of person — when it’s not merely about fitting into a broad category. In other words, our sense of community is less and less about being from someplace and more about being like someone.”
The ongoing struggle of democracy: “Democracy’s a process. We’re never at the end of that process. We are always building democracy. We are always building access to rights and equity. We are always trying to take people out of poverty and try to bring them into a political system where they can participate.”
Cycling in Scarborough: “Scarborough Cycles started in 2015 and aims to promote cycling in the neighbourhood. TCAT and its partners have opened community bike hubs that offer access to bicycles, tools and more throughout Scarborough to achieve its goal.” (As a Scarborough resident, I had no idea that this was a thing!)
The Maker Bean Cafe: “The Maker Bean Cafe started out as an Ontario Science Centre project, and now has this storefront location in Bloorcourt where you can 3D print and laser cut whatever you want while sipping java.” (I first heard about this place via the Toronto Maker Festival. Definitely need to check it out.)