Categoryblogging

Rediscover Blogs You Love

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we love blogs

In the olden days you used to hear blogs being compared to lovers – blogging was perceived to be an intensely personal, sometimes intimate thing, and the relationships between bloggers was pretty intense. Now, of course that kind of romanticizing was somewhat over the top. There was a small number of bloggers in a vast internet, so they stuck together.

However, there is something to this romantic notion. I’ve been noticing that my relationship to blogs has changed. More and more I’ve been perceiving them as something to deal with in a professional context. That’s not to say I’m not as passionate as blogging as ever, but it changed. Also, with so many more blogs around, attention is spread thinner – and many great blogs don’t get the attention they deserve.

I’ve been neglecting a few blogs that I dearly love, and that whenever I visit them, I find most inspiring. Some of them I would even read not in my feedreader but on their own website, for celebration’s sake, so to speak. So I’d like to introduce a handful of blogs that I’ve always liked, and that I’ve been neglecting. And I’d like to encourage you to do the same: a small selection of hand-picked, author’s recommendation-style blogs.

Digitalien This is where it all started for me. The German Sofa/Digitalien was a collection of short stories, not called blog then, but very blog like in it’s overall appearance. (It’s abandoned but archived under the domain sofa.digitalien.org, the blog now lives under arrog.antville.org.) and the authors were some of the first in Germany to actually switch to blogging and to discuss the whole affair as it was emerging. Praschl and Knecht experimented with form and content, interpreted both, applied it in often very personal ways. It was always a joy reading, a glimpse into someone else’s life, an inspiration to be part of this whole blogging thing. They would have never called it a movement.

Jan Chipchase / Future Perfect Jan Chipchase (real name!) is a researcher for Nokia. In his blog Future Perfect he shares some insights on his research on digital lifestyle. Sounds boring? Think again. Chipchase leaves his lab and goes straight to where the real innovation is made this day: the favelas of the world where bootstrapping and improvising and hacking is the default mode. He talks to the folks there who hack their phones to meet the needs of life as an Indian taxi driver or maybe the expectations of a 15-year old in Shinjuku. More companies should be giving budgets to awesome researchers and allow them to blog. Just as I’m typing this the most recent blogpost reads:

Today’s office involves a few hours stopover in Dubai, then a 3am flight to Kabul. The upside of sleeplessness? Watching the dawn over Afghanistan turn from glimmer on earth’s curved surface to the dusty, arid warmth of the mountains below. The next few days an opportunity to map the movement of the city since the last visit, a plethora of interviews and reconnections, Insha’Allah.

This may give you a rough idea of what Jan Chipchase is upt to. It’s always fascinating.

Danah Boyd / apophenia Danah Boyd blogs under the domain Zephoria.org, her blog is call apophenia. According to Wikipedia, apophenia is “the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data”. I’m not sure the blog name is all that convincing – after all, Danah doesn’t really dig around meaningless data but instead blogs about her very concrete scientific findings, mostly around the way youth use social media (in the more narrow sense) or (in the wider sense) how youth construct online identities. (Of course, you surely shouldn’t let the blog name get in your way.)

Like Jan Chipchase (above), Danah Boyd is a scientist who by now is on the payroll of a major corporation to fund her research. She works for Microsoft Research New England and is a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. That shouldn’t deter you, though, as she still shares a lot of research results. Never dry, always compelling and very often thought-stimulating or even mind blowing. Whenever I go to her blog, I can be sure to spend the next hour or so digging around her site, it’s that good. Definitively a keeper.

Bruce Sterling / beyond the beyond Bruce Sterling has been a hero of mine for a long time. (I most recently sung his praise after reboot11.) If there’s any place he outputs regularly besides the WIRED/beyond the beyond blog, I’m not familiar with it – so this is it. In his very particular, weary-yet-wary way he formulates incredibly deep, complex thoughts in a way that usually takes me a few days to process before understanding what he’s even talking about, but when the thoughts eventually sink in, they usually trigger some profound thought process in me in a way few writers do. The blog itself isn’t always so great, but when it shines, it thoroughly does. And it is, as far as I know, the best place to catch a regular dose of Sterling.

Anthony Volodkin / faßcinated Anthony is one of the minds behind the wonderful hypemachine music discovery service. On his personal blog faßcinated, Anthony does just what blogs used to be about: he shares personal thoughts and little snippets of stuff he finds online. It’s not overly deep and often banal, but in the best possible sense of the word: Little glimpes into someone’s day-to-day live, written and shared with a lot of love, occasionally with his take on contemporary Russia. (He was born and raised in Russia, now lives in New York City.) I know Anthony only very superficially, but his blog seems to perfectly capture and reflect his very curious, passionate and open-minded personality in a way that’s, well, just fun to read.

Yay!Everyday! I wasn’t sure if I should include Yay!Everyday! in this list. For one, it’s not technically a blog, but rather a collection of photos. More importantly though, it’s not Yay!Everyday! I wanted to highlight, but Yay!Monday!, which is by now defunct (or so it seems). Yay!Monday! used to be a weekly dose of inspiration a la ffffound, but for Mondays only. (In fact I have to admit I can’t really tell how they’re different, if at all.) So this shouldn’t be part of this list. Then again, this is all about inspiration, so let’s not be too narrow-minded, eh?

What else? This list feels terribly incomplete. But that’s the nature of neglected blog reading lists, by definition important blogs get forgotten. So I’ll take the liberty of updating this list when I remember another blog that I’ve been neglecting and that should be featured here. Until then, I strongly recommend you check out the blogs above. I promise you won’t regret it. Enjoy!

Updates:

something changed something changed is not even a real blog. It’s a tumblelog. It’s written by a certain Jessica, who doesn’t give away her family name (not even in interviews), or her exact job (she only says she works in advertising, until recently in Sydney, now in Melbourne). In other words: I know practically nothing about the author of this blog. And yet, it’s full of smart, inspiring quotes, thoughts and ideas. I never leave the site without something new and refreshing on my mind. And what more can you possibly ask for?

Photo by kunel, Some Rights Reserved.

Some Impressions: Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum

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Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Panel about Citizen Journalism

Just coming back from Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) – and on my way to Barcamp Cologne 3 – I’m in a little cafe in the middle of nowhere (sorry dotdean), where Cappuccino still tastes like early 90s cappuccino, and where laptop dwellers in cafes are still greeted with curious stares. It is, to be short, the opposite of GMF – a truly global, international, intercultural event, and a remarkable one at that.

Why the praise? It’s the people of course. I can hardly remember another conference where so many folks working on such courageous projects get together not to have themselves celebrated (like we occasionally do at all those web conferences), but to talk, on eye level, with each other, exchange ideas and experiences, and seemed to be humbled by each other’s presence. When I was sitting on the panel with four bloggers, activists and citizen journalists in the old German parliamentary buildings (full disclosure: I was invited as moderator by Deutsche Welle, paid gig), I couldn’t help but feeling awe in the face of what these folks pull off in their day-to-day lives. Who was on the panel? Nancy Watzman, investigative journalist, consultant to the Sunlight Foundation, and author of Political Party Time; Israel Yoroba who writes Le Blog de Yoro; Oliver Nyirugubara, Program Coordinator for Voices of Africa; and a blogger/activist from Iran who asked not to be named because it would put her under unnecessary risk.

These are the prototypical bloggers and activists we read and talk about all the time, the ones who fight within or from the outside for freedom of expression in the repressive regimes in their countries (or in one case: corruption in their not-so-repressive regime). These are folks who take real risks every day to do what they’re doing. And I can’t overstate how much that demands our respect and support.

The Global Media Forum will be on again next year. If you get the chance, don’t miss out. It’s inspiring, and impressive.

For more impressions, Nancy Watzman also shares some of her thoughts on the conference, as does Kevin Anderson.

Photo by Deutsche Welle: Panel on Citizen Journalism and Freedom of Speech, with Gabriel Gonzalez (center) giving a brief introduction

Music, Video, Links: Some Brainteasers for the Weekend

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Hey there. Since an appointment just got cancelled I figured I might as well put together a post with some brainteasers and fun stuff I stumbled upon over the last couple of days. In other words: Welcome the weekend!

First up, I strongly recommend you check out TheSixtyOne, a great music discovery and sharing service. The service comes with a lot of built-in challenges, making music discovery even more playful than other services. (Yes, you can level up, too.) It’s as interactive as it could possible be, and therefor pretty much addictive. It’s worth it, too. Also, you can also choose to browse Creative Commons licensed music only, which I always find neat. Particularly, and despite the NSFW title, I recommend this song:

Also, Us Now is a great 60 min documentary about grassroots initiatives and social media. I haven’t yet managed to finish the whole movie, but I’ll definitively watch the rest this weekend:

Us Now and the next recommendation, Brain Pickings, via my buddy Johannes Kleske. Brain Pickings is a blog full of true brainteasers and awesome stuff. Somewhat along the same line, also more geared towards trends & design, is PicoCool by Emily Chang, which just was relaunched.

In other news:

  • Thomas Praus and I will be taking sponsors for Likemind Berlin (the next month or two are covered, but afterwards it’s your chance – it’s the best, cheapest and most fun sponsorship you could wish for). Get in touch via Twitter (@thewavingcat) or email (peter at thewavingcat.com).
  • Sunday, 7 June is election day for the European elections. This is important; if you live in the EU, please vote. If you don’t vote, stop reading this blog ;) On Youtube, you can find plenty of hilarious election campaign TV ads (German clips; it’s really unbelievable what kind of videos the parties produce.)
  • Next week at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum (GMF) I’ll be moderating a panel on Citizen Journalism and Freedom Of Speech with interesting and incredibly brave bloggers, activists and citizen journalists.
  • Being around the corner for GMF anyway, I surely won’t miss out on BarcampCologne3 (hashtag #bcc3). If you’re there, say hi!

That said, have a great weekend.

Berlin Munchies: New Berlin Food Blog

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Bagel at Goldmarie, Kreuzberg

A new pet project of mine is all about food: Berlin Munchies is a blog about food in Berlin. Not exactly haute cuisine, but down-to-earth, day-to-day food encounters. My collaborators Michelle and AlienTed and I take snapshots of food we encounter in places we like, and add a brief description. We focus on restaurants and snack bars, cafes and bars.

It’s all very beta, totally subjective, and low-key: We take the pics mostly with our cellphone cameras and have them posted automatically to the blog. (I really like the live character of posting straight from my phone, but the quality really is somewhat sad.)

So here’s what to expect: A (often blurry – cellphone camera, remember?) photo of a dish or a drink; a brief description of why we like the place; and an idea of where to find it. That’s it.

Inspiration came from two food blogs I recently encountered: New York based The Young & Hungry, and J‘s Let’s Break Bread. Both are great; both look much better than ours; still, I think there’s a lot of yummy food to be had in Berlin. So if you’re in town and are looking for a snack or a drink, have a look.

Photo: Bagel at Goldmarie, Kreuzberg

Once and for all: A beta test isn’t enough to create buzz

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It’s old news, it really is. But since I get confronted with invitations to beta tests everyday (in my role as a blogger, as a freelance consultant and as project lead for German blog magazine blogpiloten.de), I can promise you that a lot of PR agencies still think a beta test is enough to get bloggers to write about your product, and thus to create buzz. It isn’t. Period.

Beta tests are important. If you’re a bootstrapping web startup, you need to release early and release often. In order to to that, you need constant feedback from your users. Potential users (and testers) are most easily identified by their blogs, so inviting bloggers to your beta test makes a lot of sense.

That said, inviting bloggers to test your stuff just to get their attention and save money on marketing is a really, really bad idea. If you don’t allow for the feedback they’re willing to give, you’re being unfair, both to these bloggers and to your product. Whatever it is you’re developing, it’s not perfect. It cannot be perfect. So you’ll need that feedback, simple as that. Open feedback channels very early in the production phase. Post-launch is too late. Pretending to bloggers (who you should be trying to make your fans) that they have any influence that they don’t really have will almost certainly backfire, and badly so.

So, where does that leave us?

  1. Identify users who might be seriously interested in what you’re doing, for whatever reason.
  2. Invite them very early on in your production phase, so you can implement their feedback into your product.
  3. Give them feedback, respect, and credit. Lots of all of this. And then some.
  4. Make sure to hook them up with a free version of your product once it’s all set and done. They just put a lot of effort into your product, so you can make money off of it. It’s only fair not to charge them.

Blogger Program: Deutsche Gamestage / Quo Vadis

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Deutsche Gamestage / Quo Vadis (@DGQV) is the leading German games developer conference, and when I was asked by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg if I could help out with the blogger program, I was psyched. Now sadly I won’t be in town during the conference, which takes place 21-23 April at Urania in Berlin. However, the program (day 1, day 2) is pretty impressive.

To cut a long story short: There’s two ways to participate in the blogger program. 1, you can get a discounted ticket (€39+tax instead of €249+tax) if you blog about the conference upfront and include the conference banners. Or 2, which I imagine is much more interesting: You can be one of the official bloggers with a free ticket, full access to all areas, and we can talk about a travel stipend to cover some of your travel costs. Of course we’ll do everything we can to provide stable wifi, enough power outlets and a little blogging lounge so you can hack away without any distraction.

If that sounds right for you, please get in touch (peter@thewavingcat.com) and tell me a bit about yourself and why you should be one of the bloggers. I’ll try to hook you up with a ticket.

And since the conference is mostly in German, here’s the German version of the post.

Deutsche Gamestage / Quo Vadis (@DGQV) ist die wichtigste deutsche Games Developer Konferenz. Deshalb habe ich mich auch sehr gefreut, als das Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg gefragt hat, ob ich mit dem Bloggerprogramm aushelfen könnte. Leider werde ich während der Konferenz selbst (21.-23. April in der Urania in Berlin) gar nicht in der Stadt sein, das Programm sieht aber sehr eindrucksvoll aus (Tag 1, Tag 2).

Lange Rede, kurzer Sinn: Es gibt zwei Arten, am Bloggerprogramm teilzunehmen. 1, es gibt ein verbilligtes Ticket (€39+Steuern statt €249+Steuern), wenn du über die Konferenz bloggst und einen Konferenzbanner einbaust. Oder Möglichkeit 2, die wesentlich interessanter sein dürfte: Du kannst offizieller Blogger werden, samt Freiticket, vollem Zugang zu allen Bereichen, und wir können sicher auch noch über ein kleines Reisestipendium nachdenken. Natürlich werden wir alles tun, um ein stabiles Wifi bereitzustellen, genug Strom sowieso, und eine kleine Bloggerlounge, damit du ungestört bloggen kannst.

Falls das klingt, als wäre es das richtige für dich, melde dich (peter@thewavingcat.com) und erzähle mir ein wenig von dir und warum du einer der offiziellen Blogger werden solltest. Ich versuche, dir ein Ticket zu besorgen.

re:publica – Day 3 Resume

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It’s day 3 of re:publica, and so it’s time to draw a first resume. To get it out of the way: Yes, wifi hasn’t been working well all through the conference. And no, I don’t find it as bad as you might expect. (Or as I expected myself, really.) I didn’t even bring my laptop the first two days and didn’t miss it, and had a good time anyway.

Wireless Rant? Not really. I’m somewhat disappointed on a meta leval since I had hoped that the wifi hackers of Freifunk would manage to really set a sign, to demonstrate that bottom-up, grassroots mashup networks are far superior to the mega corporate networks you get at other conferences. (Remember LeWeb? Wifi there was, if you excuse the expression, teh suck, despite Loic LeMeur spending 100.000 Euros to a large telco.) How cool would it have been if the wifi sharing community had set up this major network for 1.000+ folks and outdone the telcos? Oh well, sadly it seems impossible to really get wifi working for that mass of folks, especially with most people here bringing so many gadgets that they need at least two IP addresses at any time. And from what I heard, the Freifunk guys and the organizers went to great lengths to get the network up, but it just wouldn’t work out. Apart from that, I didn’t really mind being somewhat offline most of the time, and indeed just wondered if a dedicated offline zone wouldn’t be a nice addition for conferences in general?

Twitter, 2.0, Blogging So now that that’s out of the way, how was the conference? Most of the – in the best sense of the word – usual suspects were here, and also many new faces, which is great. This year’s official theme is “shift happens”, referring to the changes in media and society through technology. Alternatively, the theme could also easily have been “mainstreaming the social web”. Not as sexy a title, obviously. But the crowd and the topics have clearly moved out of the pure geek-sphere into the mainstream. You still hear a lot of references and jokes about “this 2.0” and “that 2.0”, but it’s more relaxed, without the hype. Without the sarcasm, even, which is refreshing to see (no matter what you think of the term “2.0”).

You noticed a lot less blog posts and meta reflection. I don’t think it’s due to less interest. Instead, I assume that the discussion has just moved on to Twitter. Nobody here doesn’t twitter. That even goes for those not registered on twitter.com: A journalists was taking notes, referring to them as her tweets. A Twitter Lecture was fueled by, well, Twitter, but also by “paper tweets”. None of this is brand new, but it’s become ubiquitous, the defaults have changed from “oh, you’re on Twitter”, to “oh, you’re NOT on Twitter?”

Food & Location Besides wireless (and content, obviously), the two traditional points of criticism at all webby conferences are food and location. There was no official catering, so that’s a non-problem here with all the restaurants around. The location was interesting: Instead of sticking completely to Kalkscheune, this time the program was distributed between cozy Kalkscheune and massive Friedrichstadtpalast, usually host to musicals. Friedrichstadtpalast (FSP) has a major stage where the audience can go up to 1.200 or so, so it’s a very classic setup. Kalkscheune has one larger room and a number of small workshop rooms. I don’t know if FSP added anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt either. Personally, I prefer the cozy atmosphere of Kalkscheune, but I think both work very well. I’m typing this, for example, inside the large room of FSP.

Content? Lawrence Lessig, Culture Flatrate, Jimmy Wales, Cory Doctorow Lessig gave a presentation that was, as always, a real pleasure to watch. He knows his spiel perfectly, and it’s all deep and his arguments well-built. It always feels a bit like a bit of a cult, sitting there, because everybody listens so intently to the guru, but hey, this is clearly merit-based. With Creative Commons, Lessig built something amazing that in my opinion changed the world for the better.

A small, but packed panel about the idea of a Culture Flatrate was interesting and had a heated debate. The basic idea is to collect a small monthly fee (say €5) from every citizen and distributing all this money to the artists whose culture we consume. There’s many, many open questions about how this could work, but the idea seems really interesting, and I’m told the German green party will announce something to that respect today. Should be interesting to watch. The system of cultural production and commercial use we have today is clearly broken.

Lawrence Lessig isn’t the only web VIP here, though. As I’m typing, Jimmy Wales is speaking, Cory Doctorow will be next. So more on that later.

But so far, since I promised a resume and ended up with a lengthy summary, my short, simple and totally subjective impression: re:publica has managed to establish itself as one of the regulars in the German conference scene. The community feel is great (certainly also because not too many marketers are around), and the workshops can still be very productive since they’re so small and cozy. If something doesn’t work here or there’s a few not-so-interesting panels, I don’t think it’s as bad as at other conferences. Whenevery you don’t find something you really want to hear, there’s plenty of cool folks hanging out to chat with, which I find much, much more important than a densely packed list of high-profile panels. The fact that movers and shakers like Lawrence Lessig, Jimmy Wales and Cory Doctorow come over to speak here is quite telling.

Thanks to Newthinking and Spreeblick for putting it all together – you guys rock.