Fat Programmers

Alex MacCaw writes a great reminder for programmers:

When it comes to self-development, programmers can often be illogical.

They spend thousands on conferences, hundreds on books and many hours coding late into the night learning about exciting new technologies. They do all of this to try and improve their brain’s ability to program. However, they manage to neglect one of the most significant factors to their brain’s performance: exercise.

This describes me. I’m putting in lots of hours learning iOS development, and cutting just about everything else I can from my schedule — including exercise. I know it’s a mistake, but I can’t quite make the exercise equals better programming connection in my head — as illogical as that may be.

Making Twitter Less Annoying

Inspired by Merlin Mann, I decided to give Hibari another try and set up a proper block list. Here’s what I have so far:

Hibari Preferences: keyword block

What a difference! I’ve found I can barely tolerate reading Twitter on my phone now because I see all the crap that gets blocked when I’m on my Mac.

Hibari isn’t perfect — there are a lot of things the official Twitter app does better — but used with a single Twitter account where you actually want to read most of the content you follow it works quite nicely (and the keyword block feature makes it my current Twitter client of choice).

Some (Belated) Links

This isn’t fresh content — I intended to share these links when I read them — then things got busy around here. But hey, quality trumps timely in my book.

It’s funny how many people seemed to be quitting their jobs (or talking about the idea) while I was working through the decision myself. I think the first (recent) one that came across my radar was this post from Jeff Atwood — Farewell Stack Exchange — a great post, if you haven’t read it yet. He quoted a post from DeliberatismNot Like Steve. After reading that, I had to stick around for a while and read everything else on the site.

Here are a few of my favorites from Deliberatism:
The Hamster Wheel:

I’ve noticed that there’s also a fourth state that a very small group of people arrive at. It involves realizing that the whole thing is a kind of hamster wheel, and that although the busy-making can be gratifying, it doesn’t—in the grand scheme of things—lead to all that much.

Life is a Laughing Matter: I’m not going to quote from this one, just read the whole thing.

Forget Self-Improvement:

Maybe you aren’t supposed to bother with the tedious stuff. Perhaps the reason you haven’t done it yet, is that you weren’t meant to. Might achievement, as a goal unto itself, be pointless? Could this need to have done something notable, simply be greed in a more socially-acceptable form?

It’s nice to find a blog exploring deeper topics and not pushing more 5,000 tips you need to do today nonsense. Needless to say, I’d recommend adding this site to your must-read RSS lineup.

Good ‘ol Zynga

I read a great excerpt, published on the Atlantic, from a new design publication coming soon, called Distance, which is currently being funded on Kickstarter. I jumped in and funded enough for the digital versions of the upcoming year after reading.

Here’s one gem of a quote:

I’ll reiterate this in plainer language, just in case the quote wasn’t clear: Detsaridis said that one of the most compelling parts of playing Zynga’s games is deciding when and how to spam your friends with reminders to play Zynga’s games.

Be sure to read the whole piece. I’m eagerly anticipating the complete issue in March.

The Elements of Content Strategy

The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane, the 3rd book from A Book Apart

This is another excellent book from A Book Apart. I’m not a content strategist, but dealing with content is obviously a big part of any web designer’s job and it’s something I’d like to get better at. I think this book is a great starting point, sort of an overview and introduction to content strategy. The Book Apart series are brief books, which I think is a great idea, but frankly I would have liked this book to be a bit longer; not too suggest I didn’t get a lot of value from it—I did a lot of highlighting and took a lot of notes. Below are some of my favorite parts.

What is Content Strategy?

“Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.” —RACHEL LOVINGER
“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” —KRISTINA HALVORSON
—pg. 1

Understanding content:

There’s really only one central principle of good content: it should be appropriate for your business, for your users, and for its context. Appropriate in its method of delivery, in its style and structure, and above all in its substance. —pg. 4

Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content; evaluate content against this purpose —pg. 7

Publishing content that is self-absorbed in substance or style alienates readers. —pg. 9

publishing everything often means “publishing everything we can,” rather than “publishing everything we’ve learned that our users really need.” —pg. 11

About the importance of editors:

Great writers know what their readers want and need to hear. But the responsibility for validating assumptions about the audience and tuning the content to suit that audience remains with the editors —pg. 18

At the end of the day, we and our clients must remember [that] content is created (and revised and maintained) only when a human being is assigned and paid to do so. —pg. 23

Content and design:

In addition to attending to design considerations like whitespace and typesetting, we can act as user advocates by advising our clients and employers to reduce distractions in sidebars, fight ads that obstruct content, and give readers the equivalent of good light and a quiet room. This is one of the reasons that a multidisciplinary approach can potentially produce better results than content-only gigs for some kinds of projects—when content specialists can weigh in on presentation and design, readers benefit. —pg. 26

For medium-sized and large projects, you’ll want to document the publishing workflow: how content is planned, created, approved, produced, and maintained. —pg. 54

Once you have a sitemap and wireframes to work with you’ll be able to return to the business goals and user needs you collected at the beginning of the project and begin fleshing out the details of your content plan. —pg. 59

High-level content recommendations typically include some or all of the following:

  • Primary and secondary messages to be communicated in each section’s content
  • Primary (and sometimes secondary) audiences to be served by each section’s content
  • Notes on the integration of major new content-related features into the site
  • Early recommendations on voice and tone
  • Recommendations on integrating community features (comments, forums, etc.)
  • A discussion of how each of the site’s major audiences will be served by its content
  • Recommendations on delivery channels for the various kinds of content you’re working with (website vs. email vs. social networks, etc.)

—pg. 60

One of the great challenges of content strategy—and especially of content production—is getting ideas from the heads of experts into the heads of content producers. If you rely on internal experts without a dedicated editor and approval process, you’re courting trouble. —pg. 66

A bit about the content strategy career field:

Here’s a little secret about content strategy: very few people got here on purpose. We mostly wandered in from one related field or another, found ourselves unable to stop fiddling with bad content, and decided to stick around and try to make things better.

Paradoxically, the best way to “get into content strategy” is to begin doing content strategy, whatever your job description currently is.

No matter where you come from, a few characteristics seem to be requisite. You can’t be ambivalent about the web. You might hate it sometimes, but it has to be in your blood. You have to care about getting things right, while understanding that “right” is something that constantly changes. You have to be reasonably good with people and exceptionally good at high-speed synthesis and pattern recognition. You need to have a solid grasp of the basics of information architecture. You need to care about design and front-end programming, which means you need to know enough about both to be able to care.
—pg. 73

Books listed in the resources section: