According to Julie


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Why it got so quiet here

It’s been almost ten years since I started this blog. I have now been on a kind of blogging break for months. This is why:

1. I can’t blog about other people’s secrets. For the past few years, between client confidentiality and some serious family issues, more and more of my thoughts I just need to write to make sense of, have been unpublishable. One of the biggest things going on in my life since October 2012 has been my sister getting cancer – twice. She has been very open about this in her own digital presence – check out her instagram – and also went viral when she took part in a remake of the “Call on Me” music video with a group of cancer patients. So her cancer was never a secret. But it was never my story to analyze online either. This is only one example of several important topics I have needed to put into words lately, which I have chosen to talk about or write privately about, rather than blog about.

2. I got my dream job. People regularly pay me to write, to critique other peoples’ writing, to make websites less annoying, to follow people on Twitter and to talk about digital media. A lot of what I used to do on this blog is now stuff I get paid to do. Sometimes that means I can’t do it for free after work, either because it wouldn’t be fair to my clients and employer, or just because I want to unwind by doing something that isn’t my job. This is a good thing. I used this blog as a writing practice space, and it got me exactly where I want to be.

3. I live with someone. When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my own apartment years ago, I suddenly had a lot of extra unsocial time on my hands. I had a few hours almost every day when there was absolutely no one around. Filling this time with writing was a natural choice, because I was exchanging telling my parents about my thoughts (whether they wanted to know or not) with writing down my thoughts and potentially telling the world (the world did not need to listen). Now I come home from work, and there is usually someone there who actively wants to know what’s on my mind.

4. Over the past few years, I have been learning with my body at least as much as with my mind. I started learning partner dancing about five years ago, and since my move to London and back to Oslo, West Coast Swing has taken over a lot of my free time. Breaking my wrist made it necessary to train my arms, shoulders and back more specifically, which also helped my dancing. Gradually, and without noticing, I built up the strength and fitness to be able to enjoy jogging, so I started doing that. And finally, after 28 years of not quite cutting it as a proper Norwegian, I can now confidently say that I actually do know how to cross-country ski. After going to school and filling my brain with new information for over two decades, it feels right that my learning experiences as an adult should be about training my body to do new things. But this training has filled up time I might otherwise have spent writing, and it has not inspired me to write about exercise. Perhaps because I do not have the right vocabulary, or perhaps because it simply isn’t very controversial: I jog and it makes me able to jog more. Not worthy of a blog post. When I have wanted to write about this, it has been very difficult to put into words without fear of being too personal or making other people feel bad. I have gone through periods of being very frustrated with dancing and struggling to write about that in a way that could possibly be published. (My blog post about competitive dancing gets into some of this.) One thing all this training has made me think about – to the point of wanting to blog about it – is that my gym classes could have been so much better when I was in school.

5. The internet changed. While blogging in general is alive and well, many of the bloggers I used to follow have quit, turned writing words into a paying job (like me!) and/or just relocated to Twitter. Posting something on Twitter is faster, both the actual posting, and the response I get from the internet. I don’t really like this, but it’s the truth.

6. I grew up. Growing up means a lot of things, but this is one way to describe it: You become less selfish, but at the same time, you become more important. What I write here now has more serious potential consequences, because I am important to more people than I used to be. Unlike when I first started blogging, I now have co-workers, clients, bosses, students, competitors and a boyfriend (who also has a family and a network of people who I am in some way important to). Over the past ten years, I have also deepened friendships, started friendships and ended friendships. I don’t pretend that the majority of all these people read my blog. But I have become more aware of the consequences of what my audience might think, and this has introduced a self-consciousness in my writing that I do not like. Can I blog about how weird it feels to be called a social media expert without discouraging potential clients? Can I complain about something bothering me about the West Coast Swing community without a backlash from other dancers? Will being upfront about my opinions on companies or brands come back to bite me when Burson-Marsteller wants them as a client? I didn’t have to worry about this when I started blogging. I barely had to worry about what my parents and teachers thought.

I do not know what all of this means for the future of According to Julie, but I do know that writing is an addiction that I have not fed enough lately and that I need to do something about that.


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Being good means knowing how to solve problems

In response to the question “What do computer scientists and programmers know that others do not?”, Rob Fletcher, senior engineer at Netflix, gave this answer:

That the key to being good is knowing how to solve problems not in having encyclopedic knowledge.

Something I have to try to explain time & again when a non-technical person asks me “how do I do x on my computer” is that I don’t know. I can’t explain to you step by step over the phone how to make an image bigger in your document or how to print on both sides of the paper or how to switch between the internal and external speakers. I can probably – given the computer in front of me, some opportunity to explore the problem and accurate information about what you’re trying to do – figure it out. I’m familiar with the language of user interfaces and can use intuition and experience to explore an unfamiliar tool. I’m also less afraid of accidentally breaking something.

Programming is more like that than one might think. Sure, there’s knowledge involved but a lot of it comes down to familiarity with concepts, recognizing similarities in problems so you can apply similar approaches, probing the problem space with different techniques to see what works and when you get stuck knowing how and where to look for guidance.

I can relate to this so much (even though I am not a programmer or computer scientist). This kind of “being good” is why I work with technology, while other people with the exact same education and background might not be comfortable doing so: It’s not that I know stuff, it’s just that I am not afraid to figure stuff out.

This is true both for communication and dance. Being able to explain – in advance and in general terms – how to do something, that is a different skill. That is the ability to teach, which I also do both for dance and communication. But it is very different from being good at doing either of those things.


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Social media is all about digital culture

the web is not about the tools or the technology. It is about the culture,

Image and quote from Tara Hunt

As a communication consultant, I get a lot of questions about the technical side of social media. But I rarely meet clients who want to learn about digital culture. (I really appreciate the clients who do, as well as my colleagues who discuss this kind of stuff with me.)

The interesting debates about digital media have always (to me that is) been about the impact of technological changes on our culture. Does Facebook change our criteria for “knowing someone”, blur the boundaries between acquaintances and friends, turn people you met randomly once into real connections? How do Google and Wikipedia fit into the way we teach students how to research something? Does the rise of Instagram, Snapchat and Vine indicate that we are generally communicating more visually than before? Too often, questions like this are ignored in favor of discussions about how to use specific features of Facebook or Twitter to get the maximum number of eyeballs pointed at a certain product.

Tara Hunt has written a blog post I want to put on everyone’s required reading list. It’s not a complaint about “marketers don’t understand my geeky online sub-culture”, but a good explanation of what makes the internet special and how companies should adapt to this. Trying to appeal to “the mass” is less important compared to finding a niche. Listen about three time as much as you talk. Brands have better options these days than “interrupting the socializing for their commercial breaks”.


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“Racism bad. Eat kale.” – Why Upworthy is noteworthy

Upworthy finds stuff – often, but not always, videos – on the internet, adds a longer-than-standard headline and gets lots and lots and lots of people to look at this stuff.

Here’s their front page today:

screenshot from upworthy.com

There’s something generally annoying about Upworthy. Maybe it’s their incessant nagging demanding that I like their Facebook page or maybe it’s their constant presence in my Facebook feed, whether I like them or not. Maybe it’s the same vague irritation I feel whenever anything becomes super-popular (yeah, there’s some hipster in my personality).

But as a communication geek, I have more reason to like Upworthy than dislike it.

One of Upworthy’s founders is Eli Pariser, the guy who wrote The Filter Bubble. It’s probably a good thing that one of the fastest-growing sites on the internet is founded by someone who thinks Google’s and Facebook’s content filtering algorithms could have scary consequences.

Upworthy’s mission is to “draw massive amounts of attention to the topics that really matter”. It’s hard to hate that. Upworthy uses all the tricks at their disposal to spread content they think is meaningful. They argue that the lowest common denominator when it comes to human beings browsing the internet is not sex, violence or sheer silliness, but “a human craving for righteousness”, to quote this New York Magazine article about the Upworthy team.

The whole NY Mag piece is worth reading, to get a behind-the-scenes view of how the Upworthy team works. In terms of readers, Upworthy is one of the fastest-growing sites in internet history, and more traditional news media are copying Upworthy’s methods for spreading information (from Washington Post’s Upworthy-inspired Know More to tweets that parody Upworthy’s headline style). This supposedly silly video-sharing site is doing what The New York Times says it cannot do right: Researching and testing headlines and other tools for spreading information, so that stories reach the biggest possible audience.

When I worked as a front page editor, I followed the principle that “Readers don’t mind being tricked into reading something worth their time.” If the actual story was good, I could break out every trick in the book (read: not at all written in any book I had access to. It’s not like there was a journalism school syllabus for online front page editing). At a business newssite, that could mean pictures of pretty women or furry animals (bear market = cute grizzly bear). But basically, the more in-depth and well-researched the story, the more tabloid I could go on the front page. I used tabloid as a verb, as in “tabloidizing” important facts and stories.

Upworthy follows this same principle. They’re using different – newer – ways of tabloidizing to spread messages they believe make the world a better place.

Here’s one of the most interesting paragraphs from the NY Mag article:

One curator shares the tip of trying to express the core point of the content in four words. Mordecai gives it a shot: “Racism bad. Eat kale.” Then he lets everyone in on his newest data discovery, which is that descriptive headlines—ones that tell you exactly what the content is—are starting to win out over Upworthy’s signature “curiosity gap” headlines, which tease you by withholding details. (“She Has a Horrifying Story to Tell. Except It Isn’t Actually True. Except It Actually Is True.”) How then, someone asks, have they been getting away with teasing headlines for so long? “Because people weren’t used to it,” says Mordecai. “Now everybody does it, and they do cartoon versions of ours.”

 

Today’s Upworthy front page shows that the headlines are adapting to this new discovery. On the surface, Upworthy seems to break most of the established headline-writing rules, but that’s mainly because their headlines are so long. They’re still doing what headlines are supposed to do: tell the reader why they should click on the link.

I’ll be following what Upworthy does going forward, to see how the new social media version of tabloidization develops.


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Gjesteblogger hos NRK Beta

Jeg gjesteblogger hos NRK Beta!

Les innlegget  her: Hvordan du kan ha en smarttelefon og likevel være en hyggelig person

Innlegget handler om folkeskikk for folk med smarttelefon. Så gi meg gjerne beskjed – i NRKs kommentarfelt, her på bloggen, på Twitter, Facebook eller i “virkeligheten” –  om hva du synes om levereglene jeg foreslår.

Dette gjør meg selvfølgelig kjempeglad, men litt starstruck. Jeg har vært fan av NRK Beta lenge,  og det har jeg også blogget om.

Hvis du kom hit fordi du likte NRK Beta-posten, bør du også lese disse:


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How to own a smart phone and still behave like a decent human

I finally made myself watch the “Look up!” video that’s been circling social media lately, using the very thing it’s criticizing to spread its message. And it really bothered me. Here it is:

This idea that you cannot personally connect with someone digitally is old-fashioned and in my opinion deeply unsocial. I don’t think my relationship with my boyfriend would exist today if we didn’t have access to digital communication when we were starting our relationship. This video completely ignores the fact that many people love other people who do not live within walking distance (and it’s filmed in London, a city with lots of distance).

Argh. Stop worrying so much. This is what you need to do in order to be a decent person with a smart phone:

Don’t have your face pointed at your phone screen when you are supposed to be socializing with an in-the-flesh friend who made the effort to get to the same geographic location as you to talk to you in person.

Do feel free to stare at your screen on public transportation. That’s a great time to catch up on the news, read a book, send a message to a friend, read your e-mail and do all sorts of other productive and possibly very social things. Don’t worry – public transportation used to look like this:

supposedly social

Don’t assume that reading a book is inherently better than looking at a screen. I spend so much of my screen-looking time reading books (with my Kindle app).

Do be thankful that if you feel sad and need to talk to a close friend, you can talk on the phone, send messages or even communicate through video. Yes, a hug is better than a video conference, but a video conference is much, much better than simply not being able to communicate because you cannot physically meet.

Do have good conversations. They can happen in person, over the phone, through long e-mails or letters,  via text or instant messaging, or video chat. But use the communication tools at your disposal to really explore another person’s thoughts and ideas, and get to know the people you really think of as your friends.

Don’t feel the need to do that last one with everyone who friends you on Facebook. Just because Facebook uses the word “friend” about everyone from your best kindred spirit to that guy you said hi to at a party last night, doesn’t mean you can’t know the difference.

Don’t share important personal moments on social media as they happen. Let the idea that you just graduated, got engaged or had a child sink in before you broadcast it.

Do make sure everyone involved is ok with sharing those important moments when you eventually tell the world.

Do check your phone every now and then when you are at a party or other social gathering that lasts for a while. Maybe your friend got lost on the way to the party. Maybe there is an emergency. But check your calls, texts and maybe your Facebook messages or email. Not Facebook newsfeed, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. People will not use Instagram to warn you about an impending disaster that only you can fix.

Don’t worry about other peoples’ social media posts. Stop acting as if pictures of other peoples’ breakfast (or dog or feet or painted fingernails) pose a threat to our society. Go read some real news.

Dumb people are a bigger problem than smart phones.

That sentence is going to be my new catchphrase.

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There. Was that so hard? Sorry it didn’t rhyme.

Update May 28th 2014: Felicity Morse writes for The Independent that Gary Turk, creator of “Look up!” is represented by a company that “connects brands with social video influencers” and is helping him make money from people staring at screens. She also writes:

“Directly contradicting Turk are the huge number of posts on Twitter, Facebook or even Reddit that contain unadulterated emotion, expressed much more truthfully than might be possible face to face. (…) One of the reasons Turk’s video has gone viral is down to people’s desire to spread positivity and remain connected, an altruistic impetus only amplified by social media.”

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