Category: thoughts

Art & Writing: On creating and sharing content on the web

How should writers and other artists reach their audiences on the web? There are no written rules, but it’s clear that being a “content creator” (comic book writer, painter, illustrator or journalist), requires as much knowledge of marketing as it does of their own particular discipline.

10astronauts-in-Instagram

Clearly the web is a great space to discover new talent. Our favorite singer Justing Bieber started his career on Youtube. Andy Weir, author of The Martian, first published his book in his blog for free (in serial format one chapter at a time). It seems like everyday new teenage idols are created right out of Instagram and Vine (Nash GrierKingBach, Brittany FurlanCameron Dallas, etc). Comic book artists can thrive exclusively online (the Oatmeal, xkcd, etc.) The list goes on and on.

All of the examples above have a few things in common: their content is freely available online (where it’s easy to be copied and re-shared) and the outreach to their audiences was self-initiated and did not depend on a manger or publishing company.

As with anything new, I’m not saying sharing on social networks will be the end of traditional talent agents (although it might). What I’m saying is that online creation and self-promotion is a growing trend that’s extremely effective. And think about this: the web is the medium that is reaching the younger demographic. With 100% certainty, this is how young people discover content today and will discover content tomorrow.

 “in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”
— Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon

Testing the waters

Last year my partner in crime Ron published “Narrative Madness” on Gumroad and Amazon. This year he has published several short-stories on his blog ronosaurusrex.com. I’ve been writing short stories as well for a little while now, and so, in the back of my head, I keep thinking about the best way to share all this content.

10astronauts

I decided on starting small, so I though on the smallest possible story and came up with #10astronatus. I decided to publish it online, free, on a medium that I was already familiar with and that had no connection whatsoever to fiction writing and storytelling. #10astronauts is a short story broken in small chucks meant to be published and consumed in Instagram.

I chose Instagram because it’s a medium that can be shaped to be conductive to storytelling. The engagement is short but focused. It is also very distraction free. Somebody scrolling through their Instagram feed will always see your content (whether or not they decide to pause or engage is a different matter). Instagram is mostly visual, and so I decided to support the story visually somehow and I added illustrations.

I wrote the story in one afternoon (and edited it for the next 3 weeks), then I illustrated it with Charley over the next 3 weeks as the editing took place. The title of the story is a hashtag, so that it can serve as the means to find it online.

#10astronauts is now completed and published. If you want to read it head over to Instagram.

On Writing Fiction & Story Forms on the Web

I’ve been thinking lately more and more about what form should fiction writing take online, and—although I have no idea what the future holds—I can make some guesses.

writing-online-01

Offline vs Online Reading

I love reading books. I just finished Van Vogt’s “The World of Null-A” and I’m looking forward to its sequels. I like both short and long books. I do prefer long books since they let me sink into the story and once inside it is effortless to stay submerged. A short story requires my full commitment and concentration from the get-go in order to squeeze all the juice out of it.

When reading on the web (laptop or phone), I find it really difficult to read long form or even mid-length texts. I am never in a relaxed predisposition when I’m on my laptop; I am either working, banking or answering emails.

Long articles require from me a level of attention that I can’t (or wont) give to them. (This is also why more and more, I like to handwrite on a notebook. I find a notebook and its lack of multitasking, notifications and cat videos, the perfect space for my creativity to spread.) Short form feels natural online. Status updates, tweets, messages, quotes, … All of them can be easily copied, sent, they fit “above the fold”, they are scannable and they can serve as an abstract as much as an introduction.

New trends online also seem to favor short form (and short attention span): twitter, snapchat, instagram… even facebook favors small post.

But, Where does fiction fit online?

Writers have developed best practices for many non-fiction genres of writing online: journaling/autobiographical (blogs), reference (wikis), reviews (curating sites), reporting (news sites), etc. This has happened organically on each on these niches.

Fiction, however, hasn’t found a format or space on the web. Whatever form(s) fiction takes online, it will likely be short and it will have to live in a space that’s naturally shareable and easily accessible.

Like the living thing it is, fiction writing on the web, today, will have to adapt to the environment to survive.

San Francisco, Is Tech All There Is?

Everybody talks about all the changes the city of San Francisco is undergoing. All the good things that are disappearing and all the not so good things that are taking their place: Google busses, evictions, sky high housing market, neighborhood gentrification. The list goes on an on.

The surprising thing, though, is hearing people talk about San Francisco as this technology focused mecca. That’s not my city.

San Francisco

In a recent New York Time’s article two writers discuss why they are abandoning San Francisco (spoiler: it’s because of all the tech):

Living in San Francisco is a predictable affair. Each day you awake to layers of fog, the temperature is always the same, and as you travel the city, you bump into one tech-related thing after another. Twenty-somethings working on MacBook laptops jockeying for power outlets in a crowded cafe. Entrepreneurs on street corners pitching venture capitalists about their new photo-filter apps. And people talking about tech everywhere: at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even in bathrooms.

[…] I always felt that San Francisco was a bit too techie, even for me.

There is so much more to this city than technology.

I just recently went to a night at the Academy of Sciences where I saw no one talking about apps or taking photos with their Google Glass. With Pride around the corner it’s hard to forget that this is a city that loves to celebrate in the streets (Bay to Breakers, How Weird, Fillmore Jazz Festival…). Golden Gate park is taken over almost every weekend with some party or another (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Outside Lands, …). We have open studios, a lively Castro theatre, many international and independent film festivals, theater and music performances plus a multitude of underground talent too long to list here.

San Francisco is changing and I would argue that’s a good thing. You’ll get out of this city what you look for in it, but don’t assume that’s all there is.

San Francisco

We Need Less “Content Marketing” And More “Meaningful Marketing”

TL;DR: “Content marketing” should focus less on content creation and more on meaningful connections made possible by valuable content

We —those in the business of marketing on the web— have a constant obsession with newness, with defining today’s zeitgeist, with being current and relevant, etc. One of the new terms that’s being abused these days is “Content Marketing”. A concept that seems old if looked closely. Brands need to do much more than just blast their messages left and right, they need to create content to engage their customers. But since when is this new? Brands always had that duty, and good ones delivered on it by creating their own content (commercials, radio plugs, print ads, etc) or by supporting 3rd party content.

Branded entertainment is a significant departure from previous brand marketing strategy […] The rise of branded entertainment is enabling brands to shift from being mere sponsors to creators. We’re all used to seeing brands sponsoring entertainment as a means to get their logo and messaging in front of consumer eyeballs […], now brands are becoming destination sites and platforms for entertainment, in and of themselves.

Let me entertain you: The rise of branded entertainment

Yes, brands need to entertain but that’s nothing new. The term “Content Marketing” places all the focus on content. Brands have always created content. What some have neglected is creating a lasting connection with the consumer. When these were created they were in an offline mode, meaning the messages where sent out and the customer could never participate. Because connections had that offline, non-realtime quality they were emotional connections, the ones with the highest chances to stick. We should bring that back.

The web has made one-to-one connections possible. Because of this the true focus of “content marketing” should be the creation of content that the consumers can (and want to) engage with, thus creating those connections. The Brand’s challenge is creating content that can rise above competition and that can be valuable enough to create a lasting relationship with its audience.

If I could I would rename “Content Marketing” to “Meaningful Marketing”.

The evolution of the designer role

Web design as we know it needs to evolve. The device revolution we are living demands more advanced design techniques that the ones we now use. If the current pool of professional designers can’t understand the shift it’ll be the next generation that will fill the void.

The pixel is dead. Long live the pixel.

One of the reasons that I’m excited about retina screens on laptops is the fact that they are starting to shake everything up. If there ever was one common term about web design that everybody could understand that was the “pixel”. That’s simply not true anymore. With the retina displays we are forced to face the fact that a pixel is not the proper way to measure a website.” Pixel-centric design is not the answer. The Pixel is dead. Long live the pixel!

Add to the retina displays, the diversification of screen sizes, ratios and orientations, touch interactions and the disappearance of the mouse, etc, etc. We can’t accommodate this device revolution with the same design methodologies we’ve used so far. We need a design revolution.

The design industry is up for a rude awakening

The process of building a website so far has been that of designing static layouts on Photoshop, packaging them up on a PDF for client approval and then handing off to a development team for execution or “production”. It is clear that this approach derives in a fossilized representation of a site that can’t accurately communicate the intrinsic malleable nature of the web; and because we separate design from production we never surface and resolve those issues on time.

Moving forward with a system that isolates ideation from manufacture is not an option anymore. We can’t keep supporting a structure that hides from the designer how things are build. Industrial designers could never get anything done if they didn’t fully understand materials and production processes.

The 37signal’s blog put it simply when listing what they ask of a designer:

Are they able to code their designs in HTML/CSS? Can they go further and integrate their designs into the application source code? Can they talk shop with programmers? —What to look for in a UI designer

Designers must be coders and coders must be designers. Furthermore, they should become one.