Writing

Choose Your Own Adventure: Freelancer or Founder - Out Now in php[architect] magazine

I'm excited to announce that my article, Choose Your Own Adventure: Freelancer or Founder, appears in the January 2015 issue of php[architect] magazine, which is available online and in print now. I drew on my experiences as a freelancer who found himself rather unexpectedly growing into the founder of an eCommerce development agency to write what I hope is a very applicable, hands-on guide for all of the developers out there considering striking out on their own either as a freelancer or as the founder of their own agency.

php[architect] is a great magazine that I encourage all PHP developers to subscribe to - there's both a print as well as digital subscription, and I've been impressed with the quality of the articles each month.

If you have any questions or feedback on my article, please don't hesitate to post it here or reach out to me on Twitter at @JoshuaSWarren.

The Death of Books

Long live books!

Scribd - the new Netflix of Books

As you may have heard, today Scribd announced an all-you-can-read eBook subscription plan. However, there are some notable limitations to this $8.99 per month program - thus far it only includes 1 of the 5 major US book publishers, only includes books published before July 2012 and while it supports most devices, it does not appear to support ‘basic’ Kindles and Nooks - i.e., those with an electronic ink, paper-like screen. Even with these limitations, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the start of a new way we consume books, much as Spotify changed music and Netflix changed video.

The Beginning of the End of Printed Book Publishing?

Could this be the end of the printed book and with it, printed book publishing? With schools providing tablets loaded with eBook versions of textbooks, Delta pilots replacing the 38 pounds of books and maps they carry on every flight with Microsoft Surface tablets and Marvel comics providing access to a vast majority of their 70+ years of comic books via an iPad app, many people are calling this the death of the traditional publishing business and printed book.

Personally, I think we have a long way to go before traditional books and publishers disappear, but we will see consolidations and shifts in the market as these new technologies and business models take hold in the publishing world. Take a look at the music industry - services like Spotify and iTunes make it easy for users to make their music collection purely digital but you still have enough demand for physical CD’s keeping them on the shelves at stores like Best Buy - but the market has shifted enough that the independent record store is, unfortunately, a thing of the past.

For another example, look at video - Netflix and other streaming and online video services have all but put an end to the Blockbuster video rental stores so many of us grew up with, but they haven’t put an end to all physical sales of movies - Blu-ray sales actually increased by 28% earlier this year.

With independent book stores closing at an alarming rate throughout the world and the bankruptcy and closure of Boders Books in 2011, it seems we’re already in the midst of a shakeup of the book retailing world, and you have to wonder if printed books will end up like CD’s and Bluray’s - something you no longer rent or buy at a dedicated store, but instead visit your local big box retailer or department store for.

The Role of Libraries

One thing that sets books apart from CD’s and Bluray’s, however, is that we have a public institution dedicated to preserving, sharing and promoting books - public libraries. However, with the massive loss of value on their property tax roles during the recent financial crisis, more and more cities are cutting their spending on libraries. A 2010 poll of mayors across the US indicated that nearly 40% of cities were planning on cutting back hours, staffing levels and other spending on their local libraries, if not shutting them down completely. Libraries are adapting by providing eBooks, Internet access and other amenities, but it remains to be seen what role the public library will play in the future of books and book publishing.

Where We’re Headed

I love eBooks - especially after moving several times in the span of just a few years, lugging a huge book collection with me each time, I have developed a strong appreciation for the fact that I can carry my entire library with me in the palm of my hand on my Kindle, and that I can immediately pick up where I left off in any book in my collection on any of my digital devices. I miss, however, the social aspects of the printed book. While Amazon and other device manufacturers and even libraries are striving to change this, lending an eBook is still a painful, cumbersome process. There’s a certain feel, a certain experience that only printed books provide - poetry readings, teachers reading to a class and other similar events just don’t feel the same when they’re done with an iPad or a Kindle. Finally, there’s also a scary ‘big brother’ aspect to eBooks - in what they say was a one-time mistake, in 2009 Amazon deleted all copies of George Orwell’s 1984 (a book, in part, about government censorship and control of thought). While eBooks and eReaders are convenient, they obviously are much easier to track, control, censor and monitor than a printed book could ever be.

So, while I don’t think most of us are mindful of it, we’re at a bit of a turning point for literature and the sharing of knowledge via the printed word - eBooks have quite a bit of potential, and as more and more projects like the One Laptop Per Child project provide technology to empoverished children, I think they could be key to raising the average level of education in the world. However, if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose a vitial institution that’s been an important part of human culture for over 3000 years - the library. And in our rush for the convenience of eBooks, we could find ourselves making it convenient for those who would like to make sure we’re only reading the “correct” books that express the “correct” viewpoint.

Dr Blog or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love New Topics

My Blog This Year or: A Lesson in How Not to Succeed as a Writer

There’s a few secrets to success as a writter or especially a blogger, such as: post a consistent number of posts over time, write about topics that are timely, popular and you’re passionate about, and when in doubt, just write!

As you can see from scrolling through my blog, I’ve failed at all of these! I sat down and asked myself - why am I so horribly inconsistent with writing new blog articles? Is it lack of time? No, I make time to keep Twitter and other social media channels updated. Is it lack of interest? No, writing and blogging have always interested me. Finally, I realized, it’s that I have no idea what to write about, or the topics I do pick to write about are so daunting that I find myself overwhelmed and never writing.

So, I’ve decided to do a bit of research on how great bloggers find topics and use that not only as a jumping off point for a revival of my blog, but also as a topic idea for an article - this article.

How Great Bloggers Find Topics

So, I started simple - with a Google search for how do great bloggers find topics. My first result, interestingly enough, is Google Alerts - the service from Google that will email you any time a search query you’re interested in has new results. Interesting idea, but then I see the 2nd result is from @copyblogger - if you’re not familiar with copyblogger, the best summary of what Brian and his team does comes from a tweet earlier today: “We should just go ahead and designate @copyblogger as the official professional associateion for content marketers.” In other words, the guys and gals at copyblogger know a thing or two about generating great content.

The copyblogger article is titled 50 Can’t-Fail Techniques for Finding Great Blog Topics and I highly recommend reading it. I’ve broken their suggestions down into a few different categories that I find helpful:

  • Reading
  • Synthesizing
  • Networking
  • Challenging Others
  • Challenging Yourself

Finding New Blog Topics: Reading

A number of the ideas mentioned in the copyblogger list involve reading - reading Google Alerts, newspapers, magazines, small publications, trade publications, competing sites, your comments, competitors comments and your social media networks. You’re looking for topics that other people are writing about, and either writing about the topic yourself or even writing a reaction, agreement or disagreement with another author.

Finding New Blog Topics: Synthesizing

Taking the content you read or see and synthesizing it into new ideas is another source of a number of the ideas on copyblogger’s list, such as asking yourself what’s missing or what will happen next about a hot topic or even mining your hobbies for a unique take on a topic - the great example given by copyblogger here is a post titled 7 Things I Learned About Business From Playing Bejeweled Blitz.

Finding New Blog Topics: Networking

Networking and mining your network for topics is another frequent suggestion in the copyblogger list, with suggestions like talking to a friend, joining a blogger’s group, scanning industry conference schedules for topics , interviewing someone, debating another blogger in your industry or take part in an industry networking or local community event. This gives you a chance to get topic ideas from people who are actively involved in your industry while getting out from behind your computer to engage other parts of your brain in some creative brainstorming for topics.

Finding New Blog Topics: Challenging Others

In addition to challenging someone to a debate, copyblogger mentions riffing on a popular post, challenging your readers to overcome a pain point or problem they face, weighing in on a controversial topic in your industry, asking a question about an industry topic you’re undecided about or even just holding a poll to ask your readers what they’d like you to write about.

Finding New Blog Topics: Challenging Yourself

Perhaps the most challenging of copyblogger’s entire list of techniques for finding great blog topics are the items that cover challenging yourself. These range from the simple - getting out from behind your computer and out of your comfort zone - to techniques that greatly challenge many of us, such as no longer worrying you’ll look dumb, forcing yourself to just write something or even talking about your own mistakes. These techniques show your unique personality and help humanize you to your readers, so while they’re not the easiest techniques to apply, they can have the greatest results.

Practical Usage - New Blog Topics

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge myself to use these ideas, and especially these 5 overall themes I’ve picked up from the copyblogger article to write consistently about topics I hope you find interested. Catch me on Twitter as @JoshuaSWarren or post a comment here if you have any feedback or topics you’d be interested in!