The 7 rules of making your content stand out in today’s media ecosystem

Wading through today’s media universe, you may think there’s no way for your content to stand out. I mean, look at this:

How can you possibly compete with this absurd cat that is all of us? Not to mention Snapchat stars, well-funded professional journalists at places like The New York Times, 35,000 hours of movies at Netflix, 18.7 billion text messages, the media manipulator in chief, Facebook outrage streams, and Instagram insanity.

Easy. Just use the 7R strategy, a collection of seven principles that make a media project succeed. I learned them over two decades of swimming in the news and working for Stanford SPARQ (where my consulting agreement is approaching its end), The New York Times, SupChina, Spectrum, The Albuquerque Tribune, and others (and pulling together a few movies and books along the way).

You can explore 7R below. If you’d like to talk about how we can use these concepts to solve your content problems, please contact me. Enjoy:

1. Repetition: The content needs to be released regularly and often. Curation can address some of this.

2. Reputation: The content needs to be accurate, well-sourced, and reliable.

3. Recreation: The content needs to be entertaining, informative, appropriately short (or long), and helpful. Serve the reader’s needs, not the author’s ego.

4. Right: The content needs to avoid the trap of repeating misinformation in an effort to correct it. Just say what’s right. And present conclusive expertise, not arguments. People need less conflict in the media space, not more.

5. Realm: The content needs to go where people are online. Find them on Facebook and Twitter. Give them apps on their phones. Provide browser extensions. Make software that gives them the ability to layer the lens of your expertise over whatever they’re doing when they’re doing it.

6. Route: Choose the right medium for the message, audience, and resources. GIFs may be popular, but they may not fit every communication scenario. Video can be great, but do you have a budget to do it well? Animation can turn abstract ideas into concrete media experiences, but do you have information that needs its unique capabilities?

7. Reign: Content following these guidelines creates a media destination that lends power and credence to whatever appears within it. People begin seeking out such information providers. As an example, consider how an article’s presence in The New York Times elevates the status of the story. That frame provides power to shift public conversations about important topics.

There you go. An entire career distilled into seven bullet points of advice. And for free! It’s almost as amazing as a dog surfing:

How to add a drafts link to your WordPress posts menu with a plugin

Protect your baby bird WordPress functions inside the warm nest of a plugin. Image via flickr/Alex Proimos. Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).
David Walsh has the secret sauce for getting a link to your post drafts in the posts menu option of your WordPress site. Yes! I built upon his work and created a custom plugin that does the same. Why? Because I hate it when a site update wipes out my functions.php custom code. By using a plugin, you can keep this handy-dandy shortcut secure amid the next upgrade.

To do this, just copy the code below into a text file, save it as yourspecialsecretsauce.php, drop it into your plugins directory, and activate it.

Plugin code:


<?php

/*
Plugin Name: Drafts Link in Posts Menu
Plugin URI: https://davidwalsh.name/wordpress-admin-add-menu-item
Description: Adds a link to draft items from the Posts admin menu. Amedeo at hellotumo.com took David's work and made it into a plugin.
Version: 1.0
*/

function add_drafts_admin_menu_item() {
// $page_title, $menu_title, $capability, $menu_slug, $callback_function
add_posts_page(__('Drafts'), __('Drafts'), 'read', 'edit.php?post_status=draft&post_type=post');
}

add_action('admin_menu', 'add_drafts_admin_menu_item');

?>

13 statements to help you go deeper into the meditation zone

Not edge, not not edge. Rest. See. Credit: flickr/Vera / CC BY-NC 2.0

Just like you move your body into a certain position to make meditation more effective, so too can you position your thoughts to slide more easily into the Zen zone. Here are 13 statements that help me:

  1. The day is done. Let it go. The day is done. Thank you.
  2. I was not born. I will not die.
  3. I do not want enlightenment. Nor do I not not want it. I want to see.
  4. Where am I? Here. Where is here? In a room. In a house. In a neighborhood. In a city. In a state. In a nation. On a continent. On the planet Earth. In the Solar System. In the Milky Way. In the universe. In the Mystery.
  5. When am I? Now.
  6. Just 2,640 years ago, Buddha breathed the same air that nurtures me.
  7. The universe contracts and expands, breathing as I do.
  8. Everything goes to dust and comes back again.
  9. Sit with the inexplicable without trying to explain it or putting it into words or images. Just experience it.
  10. I am perfect. I accept all of myself. I can now let myself go.
  11. “I” is a story. “I” is an instrument to interact with others and guide this momentary life. “I” is not life.
  12. One life is a leaf on a tree that is all life.

I often say these aloud, focusing on the sound as much as the words. I don’t go on too long, though — just the first minute or two of a sit. You want to be letting go of thoughts, even these. Give them a try. Let me know how it goes in the comments, or share some of your own tips for zooming into the Zen zone.


You are

Tree at an intersection of fields

You are alone. You are one with the universe. You are loved. You are hated. You are free. You are enslaved. You are successful. You are a failure. You want. You don’t want. You have won. You have lost. You are alive. You are dead. You are someone. You are no one. You are unique. You are the same. You see. You are blind. You see.

Image via flickr/fs999 | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Stories were

Stories were cages. Stories were shelters. Stories were escapes. Stories were water. Stories were anchors. Stories were doors. Stories were bridges. Stories were bridges. Stories were bribes. Stories were masks. Stories were filters. Stories were weapons. Stories were armor. Stories were. Stories will.

How to instantly create a new Google document in a specific Google Drive folder with a URL

By default, Google creates new office files of any sort inside your main Google Drive folder. If you want to make a new doc or other file in a specific spot, you’ve got to visit that folder in the browser, then create a new document there. I prefer to drag and drop files later and not have the creative process disrupted by organizational needs. Click, go! Then make it tidy. Also, a spreadsheet or document makes it harder to scan the long list of folders in my main Google Drive.

Below is a guide that shows you how to use a URL to create a new Google Doc in your preferred folder. One caveat is that if you set Chrome to automatically open default pages, it will interfere with the Automator shortcut for Macs. Use the “Open a new tab page” setting upon startup in your Chrome preferences.

Anyway, this how-to features a simple organizational principle, the critical URL trick, and a cursory look at the Automator app on Macs. It builds upon a Stack Exchange post from jaycer. [Here’s another trick about embedding specific columns and rows of a Google spreadsheet into a site.]

1: Create a folder called “1-inbox” in your main Google Drive folder. I use the number to push the folder to the top of my list; an asterisk or underscore could work, too. Your new documents will start in “1-inbox.” (This an “email inbox” organizational concept that many info-tidiness freaks like myself enjoy. You eventually move documents from here into the appropriate places.)

2: Visit your “1-inbox” folder in your browser and gets its ID. It’s the long string at the end of the folder’s URL. It will look something like this (details obscured): https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B-LOTS-MORE-LETTERS-NUMBERS-OF-FOLDER-ID

3: Create a document, spreadsheet, form, slides presentation, or just about any type of Google office file in your 1-inbox folder by:

  • Google Doc: https://docs.google.com/document/create?usp=drive_web&folder=0B-LOTS-MORE-LETTERS-NUMBERS-OF-FOLDER-ID
  • Google Sheet: http://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/create?usp=drive_web&folder=0B-LOTS-MORE-LETTERS-NUMBERS-OF-FOLDER-ID
  • Google Slides Presentation: http://docs.google.com/presentation/create?usp=drive_web&folder=0B-LOTS-MORE-LETTERS-NUMBERS-OF-FOLDER-ID
  • Google Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/create?usp=drive_web&folder=0B-LOTS-MORE-LETTERS-NUMBERS-OF-FOLDER-ID
  • You can see that the only part of the URL that is changing is the part that refers to what type of file you’re making — you swap “document” for “spreadsheets” if you want to make a nice big text document to write in.

4: To speed up this action, you could make bookmarks out of the links above. Or, if you have a Mac, you could use Automator to make an app that opens a specific URL. A brief journey through Automator:

  • Open Automator. Choose File > New > Application
  • In the Library of Actions, look for “Get Specified URLs”
  • Double click on the action to add it to the process flow
  • Set the URL of the “Get Specific URLs” action to whatever Google file type you want.
  • In the Library of Actions, look for “Display Webpages”
  • Double click on the action to add it to the process flow
  • Save your app.
  • Put the app in your Mac dock
  • If you want to change the app’s icon, right click on it, choose “Get Info” to open a Finder window about it. Find an image online you want for the icon. Copy that image. Go back to the app’s Finder window. Click once on the icon to the left of app’s name. This will highlight it. Then paste the image you copied from the web. The icon should change. Zazing! You’ve got a one-click, tidy method in your dock to make a new Google doc.

40 years of wisdom for $4, and a call for your inescapable truths

Hand holding a wisdom tooth

I took the time to write down 40 things I’ve learned thus far in my short life. I mostly wanted something to make fun of when I’m older — it’s too entertaining to see how our attitudes change over time — but I do hope it transmits a few ideas that I find both existentially helpful and true.

My new book also comes with a website, 40by40.xyz. It provides a form to answer this question: What have you learned in 40 years that you know to be true? Whatever people share, I’ll publish on the same site. Maybe another book will come out of it.

For a taste of my 40 quick takes on wisdom for the cheap price of $4 (just 10 cents per insight!), here is one of my favorites, something I learned amid the sadness that struck after my brother was shot to death in 2002:

Have a dream but don’t be a slave to it. Life is bigger than you and your ambitions. Sometimes you need to alter your needs and desires when the world or your own evolving self demand it.

Image via flickr/amanda dias | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fighting for identity as change accelerates

We all know that life is change. What’s new is the pace. It’s faster than ever before. All of those thoughts in our head that create the experience of life from moment to moment — mundane and profound alike — have finally broken past the speed limits of time, distance, and hierarchical power.

Blame and credit the internet. There’s never been such a powerful way to gather, consume, judge, and share the concepts that make us human. On top of that, it’s affordable. It fits in your hand. It’s so easy to use, toddlers can operate it. And it makes someone in China as easy to reach as someone next door.

People spend hours a day eating up all that content. Professional, amateur, clever, dumb, inspiring, demeaning, destructive — all of it taken in, every second. And it never runs out. More and more keeps coming. You could do nothing but watch, read, and listen to something new the rest of your life with no more effort than reaching into your pocket.

That’s different. In the span of a few years, we’ve taken a huge leap in the broader trend of separating human mental activity from the limiting factors of the flesh. Telephones extended our voice; we could chat with someone in real time without having to take a massive trip. Now we have devices extending our voice and bodies, farther than ever before. And we’ve made it amazingly cheap. If I want to hold a face-to-face conversation with someone in Africa, I have myriad choices, many of them effectively free (a basic level of service costs nothing, but, yes, internet connections have a fee, which is remarkably affordable for a certain segment of the human population). Videotelephony has come a long way.

The strangest part of this information revolution is the feeling that what’s happening in my head is increasingly disconnected from what’s happening with my body. My concept of “me” may be undergoing a revolution as I engage more facts, stories, and relationships than ever before, but here “I” am, sitting in a chair in front of a desk in New Mexico.

A gap is developing. There is a “local me,” made of my body and place and all the limits they entail, and a “virtual me,” an ethereal concept defined by connections to other intangible, mediated ideas pulled from anywhere at all times.

It’s disconcerting. Which “me” is the real one? How many of “me” are there, if we define a personality as an intersection of information, tangible and virtual? Are they all real? Which one do I fight for? The “body me” that enjoys American freedoms? The “virtual me” enjoying friendships in Hong Kong?

In this environment, it becomes hard for anyone to claim ownership of a particular identity. Culture, once like stone that people were shaped by and shaped themselves into, now pours through and into and out of us like water.

If anyone can don an identity by filling their head with the concepts that define it (with less effort than ever before), then a foundation of being human has been remade.

Yet in an unstable world, sometimes your (illusory?) definition of “me” is all that holds still. If this too is under threat, there are two responses: fight for your identity, or redefine what it means to be you.

The fighters are coming out. It’s what I see in the fascinating arguments about cultural appropriation. I’m not indicating equivalence here, but it seems to be at play at the other end of the ideological spectrum. Far, far left, and far, far right hunger for a purity, though for far different reasons. I’d argue that these movements are a search for stability in a technological world that has cut the ties between one’s bodily identity and mental identity. People are trying to bring unity to what technology has sundered. They’re fighting not just for who they are, but for the process society has provided for defining ourselves.

I don’t know if they can win. Humans have always pushed to escape the brutal reality of bodily limits. I believe we’re moving toward more fluidity, toward a multitude of “me’s.” Virtual reality will become the norm, and people will wear cultures like clothes; they’ll use their characteristics like tools to elicit certain responses from those they communicate with. “Me” will become a functional choice. Identity will be a quickly shifting network.

Way, way ahead, I imagine consciousness completely separating from our bodies. It will travel to where it’s needed or desired, free and ghostly as light.

The era of the performer: As need-based communication becomes increasingly mediated and impersonal, civility plummets and partisanship rises

Life used to be so inconvenient prior to the internet. There were no one-button presses to satisfy every want, no Google to find every answer, no screen through which to mediate every bit of communication.

You had to talk to people in all their glory, ugliness, prejudice and promise. And if you wanted to get anywhere — if you wanted your problem solved or your question answered — you had to be somewhat nice. They had something you needed. So you talked. Civilly.

There was no screen between you and the information (have we forgotten that information comes from people, not computers?). People were actively involved in the transmission of the data you needed in the very moment you engaged it. It was not packaged for later consumption. It was not edited and filtered and search-optimized and nipped and tucked for a rectangular interface that would serve up anyone, anywhere, anytime. It was messy. Slow. Uncomfortable. It was risky — all that effort could produce nothing, and your seconds of life might be considered wasted. But it was worth it. It was more important than we realized. Because it came with a little-appreciated side effect: social cohesion.

It is hard to hate someone you know in three dimensions. Three dimensions? I mean the person you’re talking with is, in real-time, constructing your perception of them, rather than you independently modeling their personality based upon missives that person released at a previous point in time for a screen.

It felt human.

Now I find that a large percentage of my communication is mediated. It operates on a time delay, it goes through a screen and it is designed rather than spontaneous. I am now crafting a picture of people from their carefully crafted presentations of themselves; yes, I am distinguishing between the subconscious crafting of a persona that happens in regular conversations and the one that happens when someone, for example, assembles a selfie after dozens of takes.

We are all becoming performers. We are never off the stage — stages. Facebook, Twitter, personal websites (like this one), LinkedIn, Instagram, Snap, Mastodon, this site and that site and on and on and on. Everywhere is a show now, and those who survive are those who dance the best the longest.

The problem is that a performance is not a person. Hugh Jackman is not Wolverine. Brian Cranston is not Walter White. Those are characters meant to entertain within a specific context of communication need: distract me, engage me, lie to me. Performance is about story, not truth.

Human lives are never as neat as stories. Never. To expect them to be — to treat each other like performers because our modern means of communication seems to demand it — will feed a destructive cycle of increasing inability to recognize the imperfections inherent to all of us. That will leave us disappointed and that will spur resentment.

It doesn’t have to, does it? We can turn off our many stages (stop meandering through Facebook and its ilk). We can use the internet the same way we might use prescription drugs — as a medicine that needs to be monitored and controlled; we take a dosage to address a specific issue and then abandon it until it is needed again.

Maybe it’s simpler. Next time you’re bored, don’t reach for your phone. Look up instead. Notice the person next to you. Notice where you are. Look at people’s faces. How are they feeling? How are you? Stop being in between this performance and that performance. Start being where you are. You’ll find others there. It’s a lot less lonely. You might like it.

I made a copy of the EPA climate change page Trump wants to delete. Can any developers automate this?

The Trump administration ordered the EPA to take down its climate change page, according to Reuters. No, you don’t. Climate change is the most important issue facing the world today. It threatens the survival and well-being of everyone. Without the knowledge to understand it, we are helpless before the threats it poses.

View my copy of the EPA climate change page here.

The Earth doesn’t care about our project called civilization. We must maintain and change our cities and minds and technology and hopes — or watch nature bat them aside. Evolution cannot occur without information, and progress begins with awareness. Ignorance kills, and I for one want to live.

It’s true that the internet does not need the EPA page to keep the facts flowing. But I believe it is important that my government knows that this issue cannot be buried or distorted for the sake of petty politics. Such oppressive decisions threaten all of us and our futures, and undermine the people, intellect and passion that have made this nation amazing. America, as flawed as it is, already is great, Trump, because it is a country that wants to solve its many problems, not pretend that they don’t exist for the sake of an ideological agenda. I’m saving this copy of the EPA page to counter the despondency I feel when I witness how the current top employee of America’s citizenry is using his immense, borrowed power.

If you tell me you don’t believe in climate change, I’ll remind you that facts are not a matter of faith. Republican or Democrat, climate change believes in you. What are you going to do about it?

PS — Do any developers know how to automate a way to make thorough and fully functional copies of any pages that are removed from government websites? It would be a great public service. Here is how to contact me. My emphasis is more on the implications of communication decisions and design, whereas the excellent Climate Mirror Project is taking on the task of copying climate change data.

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