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Ideas of March

Ideas of March

Writing yesterday, on the Ides of March, in a much-discussed article titled Ideas of March, Chris Shiflett - co-founder of Analog and Brooklyn Beta (and an all-round gentleman) - made a heart felt plea: “We need a blog revival.”

Noting that, over the last few years, a great deal of our online conversation has shifted from blogs to Twitter, Mr Shiflett urged a re-think, or - at the very least - a reappraisal of the balance between shortform and longform writing. We agree wholeheartedly with Shiflett’s analysis: When you only have 140 characters at your disposal, in-depth analysis, debates and well-considered thoughts are much harder to forge than the typically cursory, topical repartee Twitter engenders.

There’s nothing wrong with Twitter, and it certainly has its uses, however, working longform allows you to clarify your thinking; sharpens the mind; and maps into other areas of practice.

We need to encourage a rich and varied landscape of the written word, one that encourages content across a range of platforms, content that is both shortform and longform. Shortform delivered via Twitter (or, should you feel strongly, given last week’s announcement, Identi.ca); longform via blogs or journals.

As Drew McLellan puts it: “There’s room for both - for quick headline thoughts and for more reasoned posts. I think it would be a shame to have only the former and none of the latter.”

Shiflett’s plea is simple: “If we all blog a little more than we normally would this month, maybe we can be reminded of all of the reasons blogs are great.” His reasons are hard to dispute, with longer form writing: posts aren’t immediately lost in a sea of updates, can be easily found later, and tend to be more meaningful; the conversation that surrounds a post is easier to find; and, critically, the writer doesn’t have to use truncated language to encapsulate a complete thought.

What we need, in short, is a better mix: content that is both shortform and longform; content that is both shallow and deep.

Shallow or Deep

As Shiflett points out, Twitter is extremely useful for tuning in to what’s happening. It’s a great discovery tool and, with a well-maintained and carefully curated timeline, can prove worth its weight in gold, for ensuring a consistently intelligent and challenging stream of influences and provocations.

As an inherently shortform channel, however, Twitter can tend towards the superficial and the fragmented. A discussion that unfolds over Twitter often requires a considerable degree of reverse-engineering, piecing the threads back together as voices collide and multiple, often contradictory, opinions interweave; the central message buffeted by the eddies and tides of an often cacophonous commentary.

A journal or blog, however, offers the opportunity to create well-structured thoughts, to craft words, to shape an argument, to drive home a point.

The act of writing, goes much further, however. The ability to write impacts upon the design process, helping to structure thoughts which, in turn, feeds into the ability to articulate your thinking critically, an essential part of the design process and a skill that lies at the heart of strategic thinking.

The problem with Twitter and lifestreaming lies in its transient nature. A sense of grazing the surface of life, ephemeral, but lacking the depth of a well considered post, with a clearly thought through series of ideas.

A well-rounded content mix can take many forms and needn’t involve days and nights chained to the keyboard. With a strategic approach that encompasses shortform commentary, mediumform curated content and longform, in depth, content, you can create an indispensable and invaluable resource that others’ will cherish and return to often.

Curation and Creation

Blogs aren’t one-size-all and can be used in many ways, usually falling within either the classification of curation or creation. The former, gathering and curating, sifting the vast ocean of the web for meaning; the latter, adding value, new thinking and original content. Both have their place (and occasionally combine to great effect).

The act of curation - of collecting and cataloguing existing content - can prove hugely valuable, gathering related and at times eclectic streams of inspiration. Swiss Miss springs to mind, her encyclopaedic tastes invariably make us smile. Closer to home Belfast based designer Dave Smith (who formerly curated the GrafikCache for Grafik Magazine) is always on the money with his design-focused labour of love, Collate.

The act of creation - of expressing new ideas and developing new content - is equally valuable, adding original thinking to the infinite ocean of the web. It’s here that we identify with Mr Shiflett most strongly. As educators, it’s no surprise to discover that we admire and champion writers that contribute original thinking to the canon of knowledge. Craig Mod, writing on the future of books and storytelling, is blazing a thought-trail on the myriad ways in which publishing is evolving and changing, his writing is thought-provoking and gripping in its articulation. Michael Lopp’s writing at Rands in Repose is equally captivating (and who couldn’t admire a writer that covers Management, Tech Life and… Vegas?).

Both curation and creation have their place, but it’s worth noting that without the act of creation, there exists nothing new to curate; the curated blog alone only adds to the landscape of surveyed content, adding nothing new, other than commentary.

Creating content is hard, but as with anything that takes a degree of effort, the rewards that can be reaped by publishing original content can be that much greater. Original content rewards not only the reader, but equally, the writer. Writing helps you focus your thoughts, and allows you to articulate sentiments that might otherwise only merit a cursory moment of contemplation. A good writer is a good thinker.

Back to the Task at Hand

But, like all writers, we’ve intentionally digressed….

Returning to Mr Shiflett and the task at hand. We’re delighted to participate in the Ideas of March, it’s got us thinking. It might just be the call to arms that shifts our priorities slightly, focusing just a little more on the longer, more considered pieces; posts that are more rewarding to write, hopefully more rewarding to read, and conceivably more likely to be curated.

We hope Mr Shiflett’s call to arms will get more people writing, and one great by-product of that is that it may result in more people reading.

A good sign, if we ever saw one, is that within hours of his plea, a number of others had joined the fray. We’d urge you to set aside some time, fetch a pot of a tea (you’ll need a full pot), and settle down with a welcome collection of Ideas of March from, amongst others: Jon Tan, on the fact that tyrants never last and that the real banquets are blog posts; Drew McLellan, on joining the online conversation and the importance of opinions; and Sean Coates, on the great conversations that helped build our community.

Once you’ve worked your way through those, the #ideasofmarch hashtag has you covered for the remainder of the month and, hopefully, for some time to come. We fully intend to answer Mr Shiflett’s call, watch this space for further, longform posts.

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