It started out as a joke: "Hey, maybe we should publish more lists." Then it became a cliché: "Of course, lists always do well." And now it's an obsession of mine: what is BuzzFeed doing? How can I do more of it? They have a hundred times more people than we do — what can we learn from their research?
This interview with BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, over on Medium, was published while I was on an electronic hiatus. I'm so glad it popped up on my radar.
4am knock on the door.
I think I'm dreaming, then think it's morning and someone's trying to sell us something, then hear the cops outside. I get up and open the door.
He wants to know if we heard anything. There was an incident a little while ago. We both fell asleep early, didn't hear anything, what's going on?
A woman was hit by a car and left for dead. I heard someone speeding down our street hours ago, but it happens all the time, we live across the street from a park and I always think, someday, something's going to happen.
I can't sleep, I think of that poor woman, lying there in the street, someone finding her, someone else getting the bad news.
When I was little, I was surrounded by very religious people. I grew up in Quebec, where catholic tradition runs deep, but my home was firmly agnostic. We had a babysitter who was une pratiquante, went to church, had religious images in her house, all of that. One day, she told me that if I didn't start praying to baby Jesus, he was going to leave me to rot in the ground when I died, while everyone else got to go up to heaven.
I remember her squeezing my hand when an ambulance would go past, and crossing herself. I remember doing the same: it seemed appropriate, that's just what you did when someone else was hurting.
It's something to do, in those moments when you can't do anything. It's the active form of sending good thoughts.
I've been sick for a few months, but I'm on the mend now. One of my colleagues noticed that I hadn't been well, and he took me aside a few weeks ago to ask how I was.
"I'm fine, it's okay, I'll be better soon"
"Okay, but listen, I just want you to know: I'm praying for you."
And you know? I really appreciated that. I don't believe in prayer, but I do believe in telling people you wish them well.
All day, today, the street was busy. First it was the crime scene investigation, marking the ground, taking photos, cops walking around talking on cell phones. Then it was the clean-up crew: they brought in a fire truck and hosed down the street and the cars nearest the scene. I vaguely wished they'd hose down our car, too, it's pretty dusty, and immediately felt guilty for the thought.
Then the media showed up: three separate camera crews knocked on my door, three times I said I hadn't seen anything. Each crew brought a bit of news: she's still alive, but it's not looking good, the guy turned himself in, she was on the ground for a long time before someone saw her.
All day I wished there was something else I could do instead of looking out on the street and hoping she would be okay. I wished I could still squeeze my babysitter's hand and cross myself, or pray to someone who would listen.
Marika and I spent a week driving from beautiful Airlie Beach, Queensland, to equally beautiful Byron Bay, New South Wales.
I've been known to not really take vacations. Every trip I took while I worked at Flippa was, at least in part, a business trip (to a conference, to a meetup, working remotely). Even on true days off, I check email constantly.
This time, I gave up on my inbox by Tuesday. Earlier today, I noticed an especially good article (this one) by one of my colleagues and congratulated him for it... over Twitter. I'm not checking email until Monday morning.
I realised a few things during the trip:
- We all need space to work through challenges. In my case, I had to explain the problems I'm working on to a friend who doesn't work with me in order to see things in a new light. It's impossible to take that space when we're constantly on the clock.
- Les cimetières sont pleins de gens irremplaçables. Work will go on just as it had before while I take some time off for myself; if something happens and they truly need me, my phone number is in my email signature — they can call.
- The fear of missing out leads to, well, missing out. While my brain was still at the office, I spent too much time thinking through roadblocks and wondering what was happening, and not enough time admiring the view, swimming in the waves, and meeting new people.
My former guilt at taking time off is gone. Going away for awhile and focusing on other things was exactly what I needed.
What's your attitude towards vacation?
Two years ago, J. and I had just moved to Melbourne. I was still freelancing, scraping together rent money from multiple writing, translation, and video description contracts. In November of that year, I randomly met Leni and Dave at an event, and started working at Flippa shortly after. It was, in one word, luck.
This week is my last week at Flippa — as of Monday, I'll be working at SitePoint. That's pretty incredible to me: SitePoint is one of the web's most respected resources, a living legend, with a huge, vibrant, dedicated community, and I get to add my voice to the mix. Humbled.
The next few days will be a blur, I'm sure, as I pass on everything I've been doing to the rest of Flippa's fantastic team. And the weeks after that will be filled to the brim with new: new team, new content, new topics, new community.
I'm looking forward to it. Good things ahead.
It's easy for the negatives to take over. Stuff like the TechCrunch Disrupt, ah, occurrence and the ensuing Twitter wars. Stuff like George Zimmerman getting the benefit of the doubt. And more personal stuff, too: family being far away, big questions looming near.
Today I'm balancing that out with reading about building successful communities, and single thirtysomething New Yorkers getting involved in foster care, or cool apps that indulge my quantified-self nerdery.
What are you doing to balance out the bad?
I'm generally a bit of a lurker. I've been a member of online communities for years, spending hours a week on each one reading other people's comments, absorbing their knowledge, and selfishly not commenting. My instinct is that whatever I'll try to add to the conversation has already been covered, one comment is a drop in the bucket, and, really, who has the time to construct intelligent, pertinent comments all the time? There's so much else to do!
All this was fine until I started running a decent content blog (no, I don't mean this one -- I mean the Flippa Blog). Then, comments became part of my tracked metrics, and a boatload of comments overnight could make my day.
Even as social media grows in importance (and yes, I'm still a huge fan of Google Plus for conversations!), commenting is a big part of online community building. That's why I've set myself a new challenge: comment on every article I finish.
That's had three excellent side effects:
- I'm much more selective about what I read, since I know I'll have to take the time to comment at the end,
- I read much more closely, since I'll eventually have to find something to comment on,
- Surprisingly, I'm a little bit more detached from my comments: this is an exercise in "good enough", not in crafting the perfect comment every time.
What's your philosophy when it comes to blog comments? Do you systematically leave them on every post? Do you only leave them when you disagree with the post?
I loved journalism school, but for someone with anxious tendencies (such as myself), it wasn't the most relaxing of times. We were taught to always second-guess ourselves -- in other words, we were asked to be in a perpetual state of fear. One professor often said that we should be trembling with apprehension as we handed in our articles: you can never check your work quite thoroughly enough. You just do your best by the deadline, and hold your breath until your next assignment.
I now work in a field where fearlessness is prized, perhaps even more than in reporting. Doubt is the enemy. Self-confidence, even self-righteousness, is something to aspire to. I get it: often times all signs point to you being wrong, until suddenly you're right.
This is why the recent articles on failure seem to have resonated so strongly with entrepreneurs and businesspeople of all stripe. If you're always fearless and never second-guess yourself, you'll be wrong at some point. It's comforting to know that happens to others, too.
I still shake a little bit with fear when I hit "publish" on a blog post. I get positively nauseous when sending a newsletter to 103,000 people, if only for a second. That's a good thing.
Today I took a risk on a racy headline. The response has been amazing: Twitter high-fives, private messages on the "gutsy move", and quite a few shares. Nice traffic, too. Getting over the nausea, the knot in my stomach, is paying off.
No one can look away from a train wreck, and I certainly couldn't tear myself away from this trainwreck of a Twitter exchange. It ended pretty well, actually, considering. So far, no one has been fired or sued, and I'm sure it's been great for brand awareness... Is any publicity really good publicity?
I work in marketing, but one of my first loves is customer service. No, really. When I was in college, I worked at Montreal's biggest yarn shop. The owners both seemed to have a true dislike for their customers, but I loved talking to people, finding out what they needed, helping them plan their next project, and working through their latest knitting mistake.
When I started with Flippa, one of my tasks was handling Premium Support for our high-end listings, and helping out our support guys when they needed a hand. Though we deal with hundreds of support requests every day, and not everyone was, shall we say, polite to us, I still loved helping out people.
I forget where I read it, but there's a great blog post out there encouraging everyone who runs a business to try and make someone's day, every day. That's still my mission when I respond to people on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and on various forums and blogs. Everyone deserves to have their day made, once in awhile, and it's sometimes as easy as sending a few credits their way, or helping them fix their listing after office hours, or just sending some words of encouragement.
So when I see a brand interacting this way with their customers online, especially on Twitter, I can't help but dread what's coming. This guy was complaining about the company's pricing (which is something we encounter often enough at Flippa), and, in responding, the company completely forgot that this guy was a real person, with friends and family and a budget. Sending two complimentary tickets his way might have bought them a customer for life. Berating him online and standing up for their brand, as Econsultancy put it, might have spread their name across the Internet, but it sure left a bad taste in my mouth -- and I bet I'm not alone.
I've spent the afternoon watching the three episodes of Signé Chanel I could easily find online while stitching a few blackwork embroidery squares. Signé Chanel follows Rue Cambon's couturières in the weeks leading to a Chanel fashion show. It's incredible insight into the work that goes into a single item of clothing.
Three things struck me about the work:
- the ready shrug and smile with which the seamstresses accept each required new version. Need to make a new train for a dress, after you've spent over 20 hours on the previous version, stitching it by hand? Okay, let's get to work. One hour to un-pick a seam, remove a row of beading, and stitch it back together, again, by hand? Let's do it! Incredible.
- just one woman, a 75 year-old who raises horses on a farm outside of Paris, is responsible for a good part of the hand-woven trim. She's tried to teach a bunch of others, but no one gets it to her level of perfection, and so she's still the only trim-maker for Chanel.
- Lagerfeld, Chanel's designer, is so inspired by one wedding dress... that he gives the seamstress three more pieces to execute, on top of her regular work, before the show. "The dress was so good," he says, "I can't help wanting more". The reward for good work is more good work ahead. I love this.
When I was in journalism school, one of my professors had a habit of flunking the first person to hand in their work. What he was rejecting wasn't speed, he told us, but over-confidence. "I want you to tremble with fear every time you hand in a final draft. Every mistake you make costs me time in correcting it." Harsh. Wise.
This is probably why I enjoy needlecraft. Each tiny stitch has to be done perfectly, or else you undo it and start over. Online, it's both easy and impossible to delete a mistake: you get an instant do-over, but we all know that nothing is ever truly deleted. Even when you can edit anything with the press of a button, it's worth having a little shudder of fear before pressing "publish".
"I don't want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that's what women do. That's what mommy did. "
I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful on Offbeat Families
"Last year, I visited Kabul and Herat. I was curious how people in a country with roughly four percent internet penetration and limited mobile data access interacted with Google search and products. Since radio is a popular form of mass communication in Afghanistan, it turns out that people call in to a local radio show called Percipal (Seek and Search) and ask their query to the host. The host, who has internet access, does a Google search and then reads the answer on air. The message I brought back to the US? Constraint breeds creativity."
From The Truth of the Digital Economy, Think Quarterly (The Open Issue) p.18
Several years ago, Jared and I went to his family's cabin for a fall weekend. This was in around 2008; there was no data reception up at the cabin, and our phones wouldn't have known what to do with one anyhow.
Somewhere around 1am, one of us (I forget which one) started singing Bohemian Rhapsody (there may have been alcohol involved), but couldn't remember the opening lyrics.
(Quick, without Googling: can you remember them?)
We were going nuts. Our options were to think it over all night, drive back to the nearest computer in Montreal (two hours south), or pick up the phone.
There was only one person who a) would still be up at 1am, b) would be sober enough at that time to answer the phone, and c) would know the opening lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody. I called my friend Erin, who promptly answered. All was well, and we could finally move on to more important topics.
What's my point? The convenience of having a miniature computer in our pockets, always connected to the rest of the world, means we're no longer struggling to remember random information. Memory isn't really a prized skill anymore. It's convenient, but sometimes I miss the effort of trying to remember something.
Too sore to go to the gym tonight, so I'm spending some quality time withA&L Daily
- Christopher Hitchens: an impossible act to follow, as written by his wife, Carol Blue.
- The Sugar Wars, on soda, obesity and politics.
- Life After TED. Is TED running out of ideas? Is TED founder Richard Saul Wurman's new conference project, WWW, doomed from the start?
- Roosevelt Avenue, a Corridor of Vice, touches on NY's controversial "stop-and-frisk" law.
- 100 novels everyone should read. Meh.
- The Marketplace in Your Brain, obviously relevant to my work. Interesting: we're perhaps less motivated by the thrill of winning than by the fear of losing.
- Pussy Riot: the Jailhouse Interview.
"I humbly hope that our attractiveness performs a subversive function. First of all, because without "us" in balaclavas, jumping all over Red Square with guitars, there is no "us" smiling sweetly in the courtroom. You can't get the latter without the former. Second, because this attractiveness destroys the idiotic stereotype, still extant in Russia, that a feminist is an ugly-ass frustrated harridan."