In Other Words: Blokesploitation

A sultry snap of Kenny (Shane Jacobson)
- the first celebrity plumber or blokesploitation victim
It began with retrosexuals – the flipside of the latte-sipping meterosexual dandy, who’d rather a Big M and could tell people exactly where they could stuff their zucchini flowers. They were rough diamonds from a time before gourmet grub and when manscaping meant burying a bloke in your backyard.

Back in 2007 popular culture cottoned on to the Aussie man exemplified by Kenny, the waste management bloke with a heart of gold. The return of the flannie and competitions for hot tradies all made the yob on-trend again. But mostly blokesploitation appeared on lifestyle shows so no episode of Better Homes & Gardens was complete without a loveable chippy showing the requisite builder’s crack. 

In Other Words is a regular on the Big Issue's Ointment page.  

Buy your content a future

Library Confusion 23/12/1952 by Sam Hood
(courtesy of State Library of NSW)
One of my favourite justifications for using metadata is that it is “a love letter to the future”. It means planning for metadata will give your content a chance to be found.* But I can't find who coined this phrase by Googling it or hours of browsing. It should show up under keyword searches like "metadata" or "love letters", but because a friend told me it's hard to track down the origin. If only conversations were tagged. 

In the blur of the web, losing information is becoming more common. If you want your content to be found, tag it. As the web gets busier all those keywords, topics or subjects just get more important. Apps like Zite or services like create newspapers for users just by pulling this descriptive metadata. On a bigger web presence, metadata creates dynamic feeds that allow the robots to do the curating. While it's fallen out of favour with search engines because it was easily rorted, metadata-driven RSS feeds to other sites and social media have become a powerful way to create niche news. Metadata means your content will be found and can be meaningfully sorted not to mention stored and found later. 


The fortune cookie definition of metadata is that it is "data about data". Not very helpful. Metadata is a way of describing content so it can be more easily found. An early example is the Dewey Decimal System that assigns numbers representing keywords to library books. In the 19th century Melvil Dewey reckoned that all human ideas could be classified into 10 basic classes, which provided the "hundreds" of his system (Literature, for example, is the 800s). This was descriptive metadata which still allows books to be found to this very day. But on the web information lives on many shelves so multiple tags mean content can be referred to several different ways. So how do you usefully apply metadata?

Satisfaction of click-thru

When applying keywords, I have a rule called satisfaction of click-thru. Before applying a keyword think how satisfying it will be for a user to click on it and find themselves on your page. Will they be unsatisfied with the results? Rather than a scatter-gun approach of applying every keyword imaginable, be judicious and consider if content will satisfy that keyword. 

One of the most popular categories in my iPhone app Essential Melbourne is the category "hot dates" which is applied to places that would make a good place to go out for an intimate evening. It is entirely subjective and users have emailed saying they were disappointed their dates were only lukewarm. While it's popular it's very hard to have this category applied consistently - one writer might think a night bowling is a romantic night out while another might have loftier standards. When multiple authors use this subjective metadata it's valuable to build up a dictionary with a definition to support each term but even this should be supported with training so all content creators have a similar understanding of what makes a hot date.

Keep clear and carry on

Tags that are too clever don't work. Just like the best information architecture clearly communicates what falls on pages, keywords and tags should be easily applied and understood. This blog plays around with metadata and uses labels like writing for food in a "will write for food" sense, but the blog grew to include food writing which gets muddled with searches that include this label. Building a schema of labels as part of a content strategy would have helped especially if it included topics for the blog and audiences for the content. 

But there are a lot of objective metadata fields like time of publication or location that might happen "under the covers" in a content management system. Latest news feeds sort articles by time of publication, for example. Templates can apply metadata universally across content so an organisation's name can be applied as an owner or author of any content produced making it easier to find their content or apply copyright. It's handy stuff but the value of descriptive metadata is that it supports content curation. Find metadata that supports what your users want and your love letters are always properly addressed.

*Quote update: With much help from social media we have found the source of the original quote. John Ryan thought this quote may have belonged to Karen McGrane who had quoted it in her book. But both Karen and Angus Gordon pointed out it was coined by Jason Scott, who actually said "love note". And commenter Genevieve Tucker went even further and found the original quote in Jason's post, The Metadata Mania
Metadata, you see, is really a love note – it might be to yourself, but in fact it’s a love note to the person after you, or the machine after you, where you’ve saved someone that amount of time to find something by telling them what this thing is.
Crowdsourcing truly is time saving. Thanks everyone for your help.

In Other Words: Dadvocate

A little known dadvocate is unearthed in
Darth Vader and Son
, an important
fathering text by Jeffrey Brown

It’s not enough to just raise your kids to not eat their own snot – today the parent is the political as dadvocates push forward the case for active fathering. Author Jeff Sass reckons iPads are bested by iDads as the latter has better battery life though memory decreases in older units. Not to mention the danger of their dad jokes going viral.

But you don’t have to be male to wear the mantel. Author of parenting bible What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Heidi Murkoff calls herself a dadvocate and included a whole chapter in the latest edition dedicated to proactive papas. One day dadvocates may even dream of having a book of their own.

In Other Words is a regular on the Big Issue's Ointment page. 

Content Curation is king

When asked about the worst words of 2013, The Atlantic’s Richard Lawson responded that he hated the usage of curation. His objection to the word was that it has shifted far from its original high-art meaning:

"It's a reappropriated term that used to mean something good - putting lovely and interesting things in a museum! - but now denotes a technique of cobbling together preexisting web content and sharing it with readers/followers/whomever. In other words, linking to things.”

And he’s got a point. Social media means we’re all curators now. Anyone who signs up for a Twitter account is curating a stream of links and cat videos for their followers and friends. 

But personalised curation is a response to the information overblown that the web has created. Social media has given many users a way to make sense of this by looking to trusted curators: their friends. Learnist is a good example of social media curating lessons as users learn from their friends about topics that interest them because searching for themselves is just too hard. 

You are a channel

By sharing something on LinkedIn you’re showing off your influences and interests. And most of us have diverse interests - rather than a single interest obsessive we’re made up of different facets. This blog, for example, wanders through my various interests from travel to literature to food to word nerdery to AC/DC

Most readers will be interested in only some of these topics and will surf in and out of this channel based on their interests, but there may be a niche that enjoys all of them. Good content knows its niche and its audience. But a good curator knows how to put together a diverse mix that will inspire, inform or entertain.

Effective curation

So get to know your audience. Dig through analytics to find what they’re clicking on, what they’re reading and how quickly they’re leaving your site. Some content strategists say it’s as simple as chasing traffic, repeating what has worked in the past and feeding the trolls.

But some content is not going bring big stats. It might be informative. Rather than the long tail (which starts with popularity) it may just persist as users return to it very gradually over time. Some content has a longer tail than others. One of the most popular pieces posts on this blog is about how to become a Lonely Planet author – a generic post about what the guidebook publisher is looking for when they get you to write a sample chapter. It did okay at first push, but there’s always a steady group of people wanting to become travel writers so this post continues to get readers 3 years later.

Curate for Topicality?

What’s interesting about this how-to post is that it gets new peaks when there’s a recruitment drive or a travel writing festival. Some content is durable enough that it can be surfaced again to find a new audience when the zeitgeist comes around again. Amazeballs inclusion in the Collins dictionary meant that my post got a few more readers. Oddly, it also found spammy comments about dentists (at the risk of being targetted by dental associations I’ve left them up there for your reference), because the Amazeballs breakfast cereal sounded like a tooth rotter.

On a large website curation for topicality means looking at what’s making the news or what’s happening seasonally and putting it on your homepage. It can also mean looking at what your users are searching for and finding ways to surface it. In Twitter it means watching the hashtags for debate de jour and finding your content that advances the discussion. Beware of bumbling into social media trying to push your years-old content that wasn’t worth reading in the first place. Content needs to be durable to get a second, third or fourth run.

Disposable content

This doesn’t mean that all content has to be eternal. Many people argue that news often makes a big splash and then sinks to the bottom of a website never to be heard of again. You can’t curate beyond that moment. But then again there is the “first draft of history” approach to news? Doesn’t some news have a long tail?

In truth no content should be disposable. It can be refreshed and re-worked to be given a new lease of life or a new angle. It should be maintained to add new details or events that have happened since the original posting. Sometimes just the addition of new comments to blog post can be interesting enough to curate it to the surface again - think of those Twitter posts that say “Our post on breakfast cereals sure is creating debate from dentists.” Create content to last and think of how it could be re-used and brought back to life.

But isn’t a curator just a high-falutin editor?

Yes and no. Old-style news editors can be great curators because they have the sense of a story, the antennae up to see what’s happening in the world and how their story will find a readership or create a debate. Good print editors should are able to curate a home page because a magazine front page has the same competing priorities and need to appeal to users. Good editors also influence their publications with their personalities and peccadilloes – just like a social media account that holds your attention.

But editors may not get the need to classify using metadata. Or the need for longevity of content when you're chasing topicality. Curation is about aggregation, knowing when to source content from elsewhere and blending it with your own content. And, as Lawson says, the tools are now available to all which creates more competition for eyeballs and means curation is becoming a basic skill on the web.

In Other Words: HiPPO

In the corporate jungle there are few things as dangerous as the slow-moving HiPPO. The meeting is going fine until everyone turns and listens out for the confused charge of the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (or HiPPO). 

After absently fidgeting with their Blackberry for most of the presentation, HiPPOs will typically yawn, “Yeah, we’re not doing any of that. What about building a MySpace page? Kids love that don’t they?” This is answered by howls of approval from the corporate hyenas.

HiPPO decision making is becoming extinct as businesses are placing an emphasis on marketing research and what their customers actually want. In Hollywood, however, amphibious animals are still calling the shots with the announcement this month of – hold onto your balls - HungryHungry Hippos: The Movie.

In Other Words is a regular on the Big Issue's Ointment page. 

The Future of Bookshops

There's been a lot of death knells sounded for the bookshop. And a few of the big chains have been in strife - Borders, Angus and Robertson were the big news. But an interesting rumination on the future of bookshops from the Association of University Presses got me thinking about how they could thrive.

Rather than being defensive about online bookshops stealing business, the article suggests stealing clicks and mortar's ideas like showrooming. Bookshops are becoming the place where buyers encounter books but sneak home to buy them cheaply (or increasingly do it in store on their phones). Last Christmas in the US Amazon paid shoppers to report prices on their mobiles by promising discounts or cash then undercut physical bookstores on. There's no avoiding clicks and mortar in the physical world.

So the article suggests bookshops are evolving into a "book place" offering book rental, secondhand options or membership models. It might even be possible to get a quick (and cheap) reprint from an Espresso Book Machine. And because people want options, shouldn't there be a way for them to download a digital copy on their mobile? The multi-option pricetag is looks crowded but mimics the possibilities online.

The book place/showroom idea has begun in Australia. In the past I've written about bookshops becoming more like record stores with a focus on events and following National Record Store Day to appreciate their local retailer. The Australian Booksellers Association has been running an Australian National Bookshop Day since 2011 and it's a celebration of what's good about bookshops: culture, community and lazy browsing.

But the book as the showroom concept reckons that readers just want to browse and will purchase online, so why not give them that choice? Through the book shops like Melbourne's Readings, Tasmania's Fullers and Sydney's Gleebooks all retail e-books. And what's more they're cloud books so they're not locked into a device and can be browsed on the web. They're also downloadable and can be made into an an on iPhones...

I'll stop before this turns into a full-gushing spruik, but bookshops will give shoppers the option to download a book while they're still in store by putting it on their pricetag. Publisher Simon and Schuster has started using QR codes on the back of books which would be perfect for e-tailing in store. If bookshoppers are voting with their thumbs then why not make it easier for them to buy online AND instore?

Also watch Meanland's The Evolution of the Bookshop.

In Other Words: Defunctuation

Also becoming popular as a
tattoo (image by Emily Lewis )
It’s not just words that go extinct, sometimes the symbols before or after them fall off the perch. Take the interrobang – not the sexual torture it sounds like but a handy combination of the exclamation mark and the question mark or . It was invented in 1962 to handle both alarming and questioning sentences, but despite getting a run on typewriters in the 1970s never really took off. It became defunctuation.

The interrobang joins typographical oddities at the foggy end of the keyboard such as irony mark ؟ (a backward question mark invented in France and never seen in the USA) and asterism (a triangle of three asterisks used to signal the end of a sub-chapter). Still, there is the hope of refunctuation as symbols get resurrected like the @ sign – once exclusively used by accountants for “at the rate of” before email jumpstarted its comeback.

 In Other Words is a regular on the Big Issue's Ointment page.