Lessons From Decades of Blogging.

Someone wrote on twitter that they’d been blogging for over a decade and I chuckled. I’ve been at it for at least twice as long, though my body of work has disappeared like fallen leaves in the forest of blogs. I can’t tell you how to make money blogging, because I haven’t made much directly, and I can’t tell you how to be popular because the popularity I had was niche and fleeting. I can tell you what not to do, so let me lay that out for you in the manner I can best describe.

KnowProSE.com

There’s the stuff I wrote on KnowProSE.com, which in it’s most successful period was a place where things about Second Life, Free Software and Open Source were the main focus, as well as a lot of quotations that I was building on with book reviews. The book review part was fun for me – but Amazon.com wouldn’t allow one to publish reviews on sites after Amazon.com after a while, and publishers wanted the review on Amazon.com, and there was no way to monetize that.

Lesson: Don’t tie yourself to one method of deriving income when they can change it at any time. And the second they can and it’s profitable to them, they will.

Then, through a weird kerfuffle on BlueHost.com servers, KnowProSE.com was knocked offline between backups I made while I was out of the country, at a CARDICIS event as I recall, and they lost all my data. And the data I had from Drupal was months old because, as it happened, the backups I had made in between couldn’t be restored.

Lesson: Don’t trust the technology and hosting of your blog. You’re just one of many, and you don’t matter that much to the hosts or to the content management system you use. And test your backups locally by using a local host on your PC.

This loss of content combined with the ageism in corporate America with real software engineering work caused me to get into farming for a while. The reward was the tangible, and plenty of time to think, but that’s more toward what I’m doing now than what has past.

BrainBuzz.com/CramSession.com

Around the time that I was getting KnowProSE.com, I was also involved in writing articles for Brainbuzz.com and CramSession.com for software engineering. This wasn’t blogging, per se, but the reality is that it was in how it was used. I got paid, and paid for moderating groups of software engineers yapping away in the forums with the religious wars of coding, of which there are many.

It was not a bad gig. I made $100 an article, I’d write at least 5 articles a month which was pretty good considering I was living in Trinidad at the time – I could live off that. In fact, I did. And I had the allowance of writing whatever I wanted about software engineering, and I did.
The trouble was the websites, and I expect companies, disappeared. That writing is gone forever.

Unfortunately, part of that $100 meant exclusive rights, and that means when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Lesson: Keep notes of what you have written before, no matter how easy it seems before, because while what you write for anyone else may be exclusive to them, it does not mean you can’t rewrite it.

Overall

One of the ‘problems’ I have is that I don’t have a ‘niche’. This is largely because I’m interested in everything, and I enjoy connecting seemingly unrelated things. This means my content ‘categorization’ varies widely, and as a ‘blogging rule’, this is not how to build a blog. People like to go to certain sites to get certain information consistently, like flipping to a television channel.

I hate that rule because I find it limiting. If you want to create a financial stream, that’s a good rule to follow, but what I have found is that there are needed silences in niches where there is nothing worth writing about, or the writing becomes repetitive. This leads to content for the sake of content, and to me that’s not the best use of the space we have to share our thoughts.

Some people like it. They do it. They make livings off of it, and what I’m doing is likely a mistake in the eyes of those that are financially successful in writing. People stick to genres and do well, and if you can do that it’s the easiest way forward. I’ve had mixed success with not following the rule.

And yet I have a lesson here, the final one for this post:

Write for yourself, or not at all. This is not to say that you should dismiss the audience, far from it! Yet your writing will likely be better and feel less forced if you follow your instincts and give yourself the space to grow.

LinuxGazette.com/A42.com

Through a loop of fate that had a lot to do with my travels in Latin America, which was a wonderful experience, I became editor of LinuxGazette.com and A42.com – both of which are gone.

The company that owned them, SSC, paid me well enough, but finding content that was original and getting people to write for them was challenging because of one key issue that I was not told about when I accepted the job: LinuxGazette.org.

This was an issue that put SSC at odds with a very vocal part of the community. Thus, this job was self-limiting, and I imagine a bit of a joke to the editors of Linux Journal at the time though I did not know it. I meant well, but intentions means nothing when you find yourself in the middle of a dispute regarding copyright and trademark where neither side understands what the word, ‘compromise’ means.

I tried to mediate, it didn’t work out, I advised my boss that going up against the community was a bad idea and was hated on by just about everyone involved for the trouble. Scathed.

The two sites at one point redirected to LinuxJournal.com, but now one is presently a redirect to ‘SwiftMoney.com’, the other to a site that I’ve never seen before that is not particularly helpful in explaining what it is.

Lesson: Do some hard research on things involved before you take jobs, and don’t trust the people around you to tell you anything.

WorldChanging.com

Well, I wrote a bit about this before, so I won’t repeat it. But I know at least one author from HuffingtonPost, Sally Duros, who voluntarily helped build HuffingtonPost up as many authors of the period did just to make one person rich.

Lesson: Don’t trust people with your work because you think they are well intentioned. Under the right circumstances, they may decide their value is greater than that of the people who helped build things up and, if they have the opportunity, they’ll do what’s best for them… and you’ll be out in the dark

Wear Eye Protection

Goggles WWII Flickruser SDASM archives public domainI suppose some writers will run their fingernails over their keyboards, caressing it like an old lover. What’s disturbing about that is that their fingers are between their brain and your eyes, and in an odd ways, this is sort of like poking your eyeballs. Gently, I hope, but if you see someone wiggling their fingers at you it’s best be safe.

Eye protection is important.

When you consider things like that, the world is viciously funny.

Two people fighting on social media are basically waving their fingers at each other, probably emphatically. On computer keyboards, they probably get good rhythm going, their thumbs using the space bar for percussion as they beat out their thoughts to someone who is likely not even going to read what they wrote. Even as they are typing, the other person is already working on their next response.

Dueling Keyboards. It would be a lot less intense if they got on a video call and just waved fingers at each other. How ridiculous would that be?

It might also be fun to stick them on some good gamer keyboards – something we older folks remembered as ‘standard’ with the IBM PC, XT and AT. You could hit people with it all day, use it to open a beer, maybe even chop wood with it and still use it. That’s something IBM made that few did in the early days: Bulletproof keyboards.

I used to go through a keyboard a year. Really. I stopped writing as much, and these keyboards I have have lasted… too long. A real writing session makes your fingers cramp, and that’s when you know when to stop.

But carry that with you as you go – that people are just wiggling fingers at your eyeballs, and you’re just wiggling them back.

Education Daydream.

So, for no particular reason, I was thinking of a story regarding sentient beings – not people – evolving on a moon rather than a planet.

Because the planet has it’s own rotation around a star, and because the moon doesn’t match the speed of the orbit of the planet, life is very different. To become a sentient being on such a moon would mean first of all counting what we think of as days. Days of light. So they’d have to figure that out – which to this day we humans have gotten down to leap seconds, but generally speaking our society is off.

This got me to thinking about how the education system would evolve, and what I came up with is this idea that everyone dislikes education systems. The administrators want to change it, the teachers want to change it, the students want to change it. Then you have the smart ones who know how to improve the system, the average ones who like it as it is, and the stupid ones.

Now, the stupid ones aren’t necessarily stupid. They’re just interested in stuff that’s not in the average curriculum and/or their talents lay elsewhere and/or they just don’t like having stuff they don’t like to do, and/or they have trouble at home, and/or… well, you get the point. Some are just dumb, too. The trouble is that the educational system doesn’t know the difference, so they’re all treated as stupid in society. That’s their lot in life. No bachelor’s degree? Clearly stupid.

So now these sentient beings came up with a political system that is best described as democracy, except these beings don’t get elected. It’s accepted in society that every group of 7, out of the 7, they decide one who will represent them. Now when those 7 get together, they do the same and form a new tier. So as the population grew, they gained quite a few tiers, and when the number wasn’t divisible by 7, 7 to the power of x people were excluded and they had no process for that. Messy. Like Democracy, but not binary.

The top tier of less than 7 made the decisions. This caused a few problems with population booms because the beings hated the deadlocks of even numbers, and that rare occasion when beings stopped having kids when they did not want to create another tier. Very much interested in 7, these beings.

So anyway, when it came to the education system, this odd democratic-like… system… would decide what changes to listen to, etc, and they were made up of – you guessed it! – the smart, the average, and the stupid (as explained).

What I didn’t explain was all the problems with being ‘stupid’ were the same with ‘smart’ and ‘average’. There were some absolutely stupid people who snuck into the smart and average brackets.

So these people, who were somewhere between smart and stupid, and who were really somewhere else between smart and stupid based on the education system, would listen to educators and administrators that had the same issue… and they made adjustments to the system.

If the true intelligence of this was high, the system would eventually improve.

If the true intelligence of this was low, the system would devolve.

Since it’s a mix, it’s more complicated, so we talk about the average true intelligence. Or you could call it true average. Whatever floats your boat. But then we get back to the above:

If the true average intelligence of this was high, the system would eventually improve.

If the true average intelligence of this was low, the system would devolve.

And then the true average shifts between generations. One stupid generation can do generations of evolution. Or a really smart generation could improve everything and they’d make large leaps.

Look how complicated education really is.

Demographics

evolution tech smallLast week sometime, a passing acquaintance on Facebook referred to something he had written 10 years ago regarding joining the final demographic. It prompted me to think about marketing demographics and how I must have fit in, as a tribe of one.

After some thought, I realized I was maybe part of an interesting demographic to marketers for a period when I was… creative… in how I described myself to get magazine subscriptions for things I was interested in. These were days when you filled in a postcard that was provided in, for example, a magazine, and asked how much purchasing authority you had, and so on. Filled out right, you’d magically get stuff to read that was in a specific field. My mailbox was never empty, something always interesting to look over, opening new worlds to me.

So there was that. Perhaps for a while based on income, or spending habits, but those two were something could be creative about, at least for a period, and that generally came with some benefits. Trying some free samples out, telling them whether you thought it was good or bad. But then… generally, I was never a part of the demographic marketers look at because I have broad interests and have never just stuck to one thing very much. I was never an ideal demographic. Age wise, sure, I had my moments, I may still have them, but overall – I was never very interesting to marketers.

I made mistakes with credit cards early, which screwed up my credit rating, and then when people were talking about ‘cutting them up’, I simply stopped using them and something magical happened after a few years: I couldn’t do stuff because I had no credit history. That means that nobody really markets to you, since one of the demographics most sought after is those people who buy, buy, buy, and go in debt, debt, debt!

Even employers loved to see you get an expensive new car because then they were more secure that you wouldn’t leave. A new baby? Your employer hit paydirt! Ahh, those were the days. You could almost see the resignation in people’s faces when they had debt and the promise of future debt. Some people say it made them grow up. Mature. But really, what I saw was a measure of compliance with the way things worked. Equating that to maturity means a broken horse is mature, and a wild horse is a child.

Demographics. Now the world has no real need of those sorts of things other than for feeding bureaucracies. Marketers buy your information from wherever they can get it, and there is plenty of that still – or they just use one of the massive Big Tech companies with millions – billions- of users, run a few ads and see who responds, using the BigTech algorithms to go fishing for us.

Demographics. How long is that going to last for?

Advocacy And Social Networks.

social media remote via animated heaven flickr user public domain 1 aug 2022
Via Animated Heaven on Flickr, public domain.

Having now seen the troubles with Facebook (and by extension all companies under Meta), and getting involved in Twitter, I’ve seen a few things that disturb me. While my political views would hardly be called popular, I have taken pretty strong stances in support of Ukraine and women’s rights, as examples. This, of course, means you end up dealing with people of like minds because that’s how the social networks work.

However, we humans tend to confuse people going in the same direction as those who are going to the same destination, and in that regard, there is trouble. I’ll deal with the issue of social media interactions and Ukraine here because after the horrid video of the torture and castration of a Ukrainian Defender made the rounds, followed by an execution – I saw the video, it was absolutely horrible – things are even more tense.

The blowing up of a Ukrainian PoW camp even as Russia tries to say it was Ukrainians who did it… well, the Geneva Convention has rules about how far from the front PoW camps are supposed to be, and Russia of course ignored that, and evidence is that Russia did it. The United Nations and International Red Cross were useless. Broken. It’s hard for anyone observing to not be upset at some level, but apologists remain.

Now, these social networks have their own little echo chambers, and there’s plenty of disinformation to go round.

Given the failures of the United Nations and International Red Cross, and given that Ukraine likely doesn’t have the time or resources to create a registry of NGOs that are actually helping, it’s a matter of finding out from the ground in very quiet ways. I have done so, and I’m very select in what I share in that regard.

While all of that is happening, we of course have the Russian propaganda and misinformation happening, and people are calling that out. Some of it is patently obvious, like the same serial number on a missile used twice in Russian propaganda. There are plentiful examples of that sort of thing, even using pictures of the United States in Russian propaganda. Meanwhile, a genocide is happening in Ukraine, and the world is worried about inflation.

The price of living up to ideals is discomfort. And if our ideals are not worth the discomfort, there’s not much space for ideals in the future. During World War II, my fathers’ side of the family was getting rations in Trinidad, while my mother’s side was busy in the military or Merchant Marines. We call it sacrifice, whose root is, ‘to make holy’, but it is the cost of our ideals and how we wish the world to be.

In all of this, the social media interactions I’ve observed have had me thinking I should write this.

Becoming What We Hate.

There’s some things I see that I generally stay away from. I’ve seen people who support Ukraine go through multiple accounts on Twitter, referring to ‘Russian cum guzzlers’ and other creative profanity, to just this morning watching a group call out someone on something they didn’t agree with, calling in their group, and bringing up the fact that this person had been accused of causing a suicide through orchestration of social media posts… not unlike what that group was doing to the person themselves.

Wait, what? Yes. Don’t become what you hate.

Whataboutism.

Then there’s the falsehood of whataboutism. Some trolls will bring up something like what has happened in Iraq, or Syria, trying to create a parallel and at the same time reinforcing a division. Rather than engage it and say, “Yeah, that is/was wrong too”, which would allow the casual observer who might think that there really is a bias rethink their perspective. Instead, dismissing it reinforces to the readers that that particular issue is not considered real, when it very well may be, reinforcing their beliefs which works against the actual advocacy someone is trying to do.

I’ve done this quite a bit, saying, “Yes, that is bad too.” It generally is, and when someone reads that, it at best doesn’t reinforce a bias that the reader may feel when they started reading. At worst, there’s no comeback to it. All it takes is considering beyond the current person and to the greater audience who may not be interacting but is reading.

Whataboutisms are landmines of unintended consequences that, handled improperly, can cause people you don’t even know about to harden their resolve against your cause. What’s worse is when there is even a small amount of legitimacy in them, because unanswered, they fester. You might enjoy that smug feeling, but if your intent was to change minds, you likely failed.

And if you are advocating, for whatever reason, and you don’t want to change minds, you’re not advocating.

The Pile On For Mistakes.

People pile on to others during disagreements at times when they’re assuming intentionality, or not even worried about the intentionality and only the impact. Someone said it well enough to quote, so here it is:
Terrence Jermain Starr Intention Impact
People make mistakes. I made a mistake early on in writing, “The Ukraine” rather than Ukraine, and someone understood my intentions were good and corrected me. I thanked them for the correction and never made the mistake again. I was fortunate in that regard, because there are people out there being pretty groupthinkish about what people should say at this point. However, we have to understand on a social network that people aren’t fed the same news we are, their lives are different, their world, as they see it, is different. This doesn’t mean that given facts they won’t change their minds, which is sometimes the case. But it gets nasty, and it can border on bullying.

We get to decide who we are on social media. We get to decide what we participate in or not. If it’s a Russian embassy putting out crap, I’m all for letting the pile ons happen – after all, someone is getting paid to post things that need to be called out. But if it’s someone who made a mistake, and we assume intentionality, we can actually ruin someone’s life.

This happened recently to someone I had interacted with in more than one Twitter space. I don’t know what happened, no one talked about it, but suddenly they just deleted their account after saying goodbye because they – who had supported Ukraine without question – was accused of spreading Russian propaganda. Another person I know who is well read on Russia and it’s history and who has helped me map out commonalities with European colonialism got accused of spreading Russian propaganda because they omitted something in something they wrote by someone in one of the popular groups on Twitter supporting Ukraine. I did something I don’t do often. I stepped in and was surprised I didn’t get a pile on out of it.

Today, something similar happened to myself, but it was sidestepped by a neutral party that I respect and it came to a halt. This group think policy is something that people should be considering when they become members of a group: What’s the destination? It’s not just about direction.

It’s not just about impact. Intentionality plays a part.

Groups Get People Looking for Fights.

As groups get larger, people join who just want to fight. The goal of advocacy is to win, not to fight. Fighting is necessary sometimes. Worse, you sometimes get people these days who pretend to be advocating for one thing when they’re really advocating for another, and without structure, these groups have no mechanism to deal with it.

Wrapping This Up

I could wax poetic about how to handle situations on social media and social networks because I have been involved in moderation since the 1990s in various ways, and I have been wrong, and I have been right. Being wrong and correcting my mistakes has allowed me to be right more and wrong less.

I’m imperfect. I get things wrong. I correct them when I find them.

The more technical side of this, which is imperative, can be found here: Why Social Media Moderation Fails. It deals with the black boxes of how social media platforms respond to things differently, and can appear to have biases that we ourselves can create. These social media platforms were hardly designed for the sorts of things that they do. They’ve been reactionary, imperfect, and sometimes they seem outright biased – but there’s no real evidence showing it. It’s our own bias, until we get evidence, and social media networks are hardly known for transparency. Oddly enough, it’s an iron curtain.

If you’re going to play these games on social networks and you don’t know the rules the social network uses (which is really most social networks), you could be shooting yourself in the foot and not even know it.

The trick to all of this, in any form of advocacy, is not that people are traveling in the same or even different directions. It’s about the destination, and the destination a person has is what they are advocating for. It’s also about not destroying one’s own advocacy.

Speaking for myself in the context of Ukraine, I would like to see Ukraine’s sovereignty honored by it’s inhumane neighbor. I’d love to see the International Criminal Court do it’s job. I’d like all the children forcibly moved by Russia to Russia returned to Ukraine. That is my destination.

And to be frank, that doesn’t seem like enough, but that’s more than enough right now.