I have a physical calendar pinned to the wall above my desk. Every morning I draw a big X through the date. It’s a simple habit that reminds me of how quickly the months go by.
I’m rediscovering an appreciation for physical things – journals, sketchbooks, novels, greeting cards and the like. There’s something to be said for a tangible object – the artifacts we create and use every day.
At last weekend’s Maker Festival I spoke with someone from the Toronto Zine Library. Having spent most of my professional and personal life on the web, I figured Zines were a relic of the 20th century. Why create a Zine when you can build a website?
The TZL rep pointed out that the learning curve and investment for online publishing is still too significant for many (most?) people. Zines, by comparison, are easy to wrap your head around.
In hindsight that makes a lot of sense. Get some paper and a pen and you’ve got everything you need to make a Zine. We haven’t hit that level of simplicity with the web yet.
Anywho, here’s a roundup of recommended reads from last week:
The rituals of remote work
My morning habit of crossing out the days on a calendar is pretty much a ritual. I do it every day because it’s just a thing that I do. And as it turns out, a lot of us remote workers are hunting for better rituals to kickstart our days. Here’s a look at how Buffer’s Joel Gascoigne handles his mornings.
“Routines are powerful when they become rituals that no longer require conscious thought and willpower. However, without iteration, they can become stale and can be hard to keep up.”
A latticework of mental models
Having a collection of mental models is like having a toolbox for problem solving. Farnam Street covers over a hundred of them in this ever-growing list.
“The central principle of the mental-models approach is that you must have a large number of them, and they must be fundamentally lasting ideas.”
Related: Design patterns are a lot like mental models. I don’t consider myself a designer, but I do appreciate good design and try to steal interesting ideas from designers whenever I can.
For example, I really like the use of design patterns. That consistency + “create once, use everywhere” concept is something I try to apply to my own work through templates and systems.
But patterns aren’t perfect. So when designers call out issues with pattern libraries, I take note. For example, if we start using these resources as a crutch, it hurts the work we produce:
“Having a library of design components can sometimes give the impression that all the design work has been completed. Designers or developers can revert to using a library as clip art to create “off-the-shelf” solutions. Projects move quickly into development.”
Taking on Amazon
Have algorithms hijacked our sense of identity? Is the future of mainstream consumption to be assumed by predictive analytics, dictated by machine learning, and assembled by AI? Is our personal style really ours?
“I imagine a future in which our clothes, music, film, art, books come with stickers like organic farmstand produce: Algorithm Free.”
Related: There’s an opportunity for small, independent retailers to subvert big brands & platforms by preserving the humanity in their business. Stay nimble, move quickly, and be scrappy to stay one step ahead of companies like Amazon.
“These smaller brands are better able to take advantage of selling via social media, mobile, etc. For example, in general, consumers typically wouldn’t follow a channel seller like Amazon on Instagram, because there’s no emotional connection to their products. But, many follow niche businesses on Instagram, because their products and engagement have greater emotional appeal for the consumer.”
Also related: This dynamic of being agile versus being big isn’t limited to retailers. For independent consultants and small firms, focus on building credibility – not headcount – to win new business.
“At the end of the day, what you really want is the credibility a big consultancy has earned, not their size. Don’t confuse the two. The right strategy is to to own the value-add the big guys can’t. And build your credibility around that. Who really wants to be Goliath anyway?”
A corporate culture of content
“If you’re a designer working on a new product, you wouldn’t jump straight into Sketch or Photoshop. You’d sketch some wireframes and get feedback. The exact same goes for writing. When you start with an outline rather than a fully-fledged draft, it adds structure and clarity to the idea.”
Content moderation #fail
Moderators are vital for any UGC platform. We knew this back in the days of IRC and message boards. So why are we still reluctant to give content moderation the investment and respect it deserves?
“More moderation on these platforms is necessary when livestreams occasionally end up featuring murders and child exploitation goes viral, but chronic under-investment in this area will be difficult for these companies to overcome.”
“Facebook has noticeably stepped up its engagement on Twitter, specifically around issues relating to privacy and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which saw the political consultancy harvest 87 million people’s details.”
I think this speaks to the biggest divide between the two platforms: Twitter is a utility; Facebook is not. When shit hits the fan and we look for discussion about what’s happening, we turn to Twitter.
Google + audio
We’re on the cusp of audio discovery in search results. If you’re as interested in the topic as I am, this series on Google’s new podcast strategy is worth a read.
Big takeaway for me: Let’s stop talking about podcasts and start talking about audio as a format. It’s the final frontier for traditional media types in search.
“When you combine the power of Google search and Google Assistant, there is also a clear opportunity for Google to provide customized podcast recommendations based on your listening history and your personal interests. This could be a major win in helping podcasts find the right audiences for their shows. It could also be a powerful tool to help introduce people to podcasts who have never listened to a podcast before. And that is a LOT of people.”