“A great story invites an expansion of understanding”

“A great story, then, is not about providing information, though it can certainly inform — a great story invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence.”

I’ve been reading more from Brain Pickings lately. One of the pieces I read is an essay by Maria Popova about storytelling and what makes a great story. The essay is titled “Wisdom in the Age of Information”. This is one of the quotes that stood out for me:

A great story, then, is not about providing information, though it can certainly inform — a great story invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence. More than that, it plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do anything but grow a new understanding — of the world, of our place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect of existence.

I think this applies to both fiction writing and non-fiction. I can see how we can even tell great stories through business writing. Resorting to expanded PR pitches misses opportunities to make more meaningful connections, even though that is the easy option. This is especially when there is more emphasis, too much emphasis, on quantity than quality.

Popova’s essay is also the script for a great animated video which was produced for the Future of Storytelling Summit in 2014:

You can read the rest of Popova’s essay on Brain Pickings:

Wisdom in the Age of Information and the Importance of Storytelling in Making Sense of the World: An Animated Essay

Image credit: Pixabay

Ad optimization on Business2Community

My latest contribution to Business2Community is about ad optimization and I wanted to share it with you. I’m pretty pleased with how it came out.

I wrote an article on ad optimization (apologies for the American English spelling, this is an SEO thing) for Business2Community as a guest contributor and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

The article is titled “Banner Blindness, Viewability, Ad Blockers and Other Ad Optimization Tricks” and it was reviewed and published in what seemed like record speed.

The article summarises many of the major themes and challenges in the online advertising space. My role as a Content Marketing Specialist at imonomy requires me to keep up to date on trends in the online advertising industry so I tend to focus a lot on themes such as engagement, user experience, viewability and banner blindness.

Your calling and meaningful work

Do you do meaningful work? Do you feel you have found your calling or have you made the work you do important? Sometimes it’s more about how you approach your work.

Today is a challenging day for me. I’ve been thinking about doing the sort of work that enables me to make an impact by doing meaningful work, lately, so I really enjoyed Seth Godin’s post titled “Calling your finding” this morning. I really like this line:

When what you do is something that you make important, it doesn’t matter so much what you do.

It may be the stage of life that I’m in at the moment but the more I think about the kind of work I want to do, status and wealth are less important to me (well, except as a form of security for our future). Instead, I am more drawn to doing meaningful work that has a constructive impact.

It isn’t necessarily that some mystical event connected you to your Life’s Purpose. Sometimes it’s more about how you do the seemingly ordinary work you have been tasked with too. As Godin puts it:

It’s not that important where. It matters a lot how. With passion and care.

I find myself thinking back to my short time with iCommons around 2007 and 2008 and long for days when I was pretty focused on open licensing, open business and open access to information (even if it was in my limited role). The work organisations like Creative Commons does feels meaningful to me and I think I will always see my involvement in those organisations as some of the most meaningful work I have done so far.

Godin’s post is a short post (as many of his are) but read the whole thing anyway.

Image credit: Designers Pics

How best to contact someone new

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach when you want to contact someone new. I think it depends very much on the individual and what that person’s preferred communication channels.

I came across a question on Inbound.org, a great inbound marketing site, asking about the best way to contact someone new? Aleksandra asked for some feedback:

I was just wondering which channel you guys mostly use when it comes to contacting someone new? For business matters, of course 🙂

Is there any difference for you whether this person is an opinion leader/influencer or not. Maybe you have an unusual approach/tactics you want to share.

Just to make it more precise, let’s imagine you need to ask someone for advice/opinion, etc.

I’ve thought about this often, especially when I had a small business I was trying to grow. People commenting on the question outlined when they’d use Twitter, LinkedIn, email and phone calls to contact someone new but I have a different approach I thought I’d share here too.

How I prefer to contact someone new

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach here. I think it very much depends on the person you want to reach. Some people are pretty active on particular platforms and you’d pick those platforms to reach out to them. Understanding which platforms those people are most active in is probably also a really good way to get to know them better and signal to them that you have made an effort to connect more meaningfully.

We’ve found that Twitter is a great way to reach out to some media people, for example, just @-mentioning them. Some people even accept direct messages on Twitter so that is an option too. Email is a standard way to connect to people but it can be a very bland medium. LinkedIn is great, in theory, but I only use it if I know the person is an active LinkedIn user. Otherwise, you may receive a message months later with an apology explaining that the person barely looks at LinkedIn.

I think phone calls can be one of the most effective ways of reaching out to people. I usually send a WhatsApp message to someone with a brief introduction and asking when I can call to discuss the issue with the person. We get so caught up with digital and social that we forget just how meaningful a phone call can be. Sure, there are people who find phone calls to be very invasive or disruptive but that is why I start with a message first.

What do you think? What works best for you?

Image credit: Pexels

A basic income for everyone?

Imagine governments gave everyone a fixed, basic income instead of maintaining a myriad social welfare projects. How would that impact people’s lives and the global economy?

Imagine if, instead of a number of social welfare programs, governments simply gave everyone a fixed, basic income? What would that lead to? Would people stop working and stop contributing to the global economy? Or would that safety net free them of the fundamental stresses that contribute to so much social, economic and political instability in the world? It is an interesting idea and one that is attracting more interest from many countries.

Andrew Flowers published an article titled “What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?” on FiveThirtyEight that makes for thought-provoking reading. Here is the premise of the basic income initiative:

Werner posed a pair of simple questions to the crowd: What do you really want to do with your life? Are you doing what you really want to do? Whatever the answers, he suggested basic income was the means to achieve those goals. The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.

On a superficial level it sounds a little like an effort to persuade governments to just hand out money in the hope that people will stop worrying as much as go do something useful with their lives. On the other hand, it could address some of the root causes of socio-political instability in the world today:

Basic income, Standing says, is more than good policy. He calls it “essential,” given that more and more people in developed economies are living “a life of chronic economic insecurity.” He sees this insecurity fueling populist politicians, boosting far-right parties across Europe and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. Economic stagnation increases the appeal of extreme politicians, and unless those insecurities are addressed, Standing said, that appeal is only going to get stronger.

Imagine politics shifting away from the extremes and more towards more moderate positions because citizens no longer fear for their basic survival? The article is worth reading. If anything, it raises a number of issues and proposes what may seem like a radical set of solutions.

(Via Matt Mullenweg)

Image credit: Pexels

Google is preserving our heritage in gigapixels

Google is preserving our heritage with the Google Cultural Institute’s new Art Camera in incredible detail and it is wonderful.

Preserving our heritage digitally is really important to me so the news that the Google Cultural Institute is using its Art Camera to make it easier to preserve the world’s art in extremely high definition really appeals to me.

The Art Camera is no ordinary DSLR. The images are gigapixel images (gigapixel = 1 billion pixels, DSLRs tend to be in the tens of millions of pixels) and the camera is robotic:

The Art Camera is a robotic camera, custom-built to create gigapixel images faster and more easily. A robotic system steers the camera automatically from detail to detail, taking hundreds of high resolution close-ups of the painting. To make sure the focus is right on each brush stroke, it’s equipped with a laser and a sonar that—much like a bat—uses high frequency sound to measure the distance of the artwork. Once each detail is captured, our software takes the thousands of close-up shots and, like a jigsaw, stitches the pieces together into one single image.

You can view images from the Art Camera on the Google Cultural Institute’s website in a specific album. I’m sure all this feeds into Google’s goal of organizing the world’s information but that doesn’t matter. Remember what ISIS did to Palmyra? Even if you take radicals out of the picture, material things wear over time and we have a rich cultural heritage that we should preserve for future generations and this is a great way to do it.

I have stacks of old slide photos of my family when I was a child that I’d love to have digitised. These are photos I haven’t seen for decades and will give my children more insight into my childhood and into my parents (especially my late father who they never met). I also make multiple backups of my RAW and processed photos, locally and in the cloud.

2008_07_20_11_39_47

We had maybe a dozen or two images and documents from grandparents and great-grandparents when we were young. Our children will have huge volumes of data and media available to them. Well, if they want it and assuming some cataclysmic event doesn’t send humanity back to the Middle Ages.

Other great examples of local organisations working to preserve our heritage include –

The more we can digitise and preserve, the more our descendants will be able to learn about us and our history. This applies to our shared heritage as well as our personal and family heritages. You simply can’t fully understand who you are and where you are going without understanding where you came from.

Image credit: Google Cultural Institute (screenshot)

When 140 characters are not enough to rant

It would be great if Twitter stopped counting links in the 140 characters tweet limit but the prospect of that happening really doesn’t justify the media frenzy. Really, people!

One of the big pieces of “news” in the last few days is that Twitter may stop counting links and images in the 140 characters permitted for tweets:

While there is other news, this one seems to have the media in an absolute frenzy. Bloomberg reported the news in an article titled “Twitter to Stop Counting Photos and Links in 140-Character Limit“. The key paragraph is this one:

The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment.

Largely unsubstantiated speculation

Read that carefully. What Bloomberg said is the following:

  1. Some anonymous person said Twitter will stop including links and images (well, image links, effectively) in the 140 characters limit.
  2. This might happen in the next two weeks.
  3. Twitter declined to comment.

While all of this might happen, this news report is pretty much unsubstantiated speculation (well, aside from the “person familiar with the matter” who could be a guy who passed an open window where someone who looked like a Twitter employee said something about 140 characters and links).

This speculation has then been reported as pseudo-fact by a variety of other publications. The Verge, for example, reported this:

Twitter is planning on letting users craft longer tweets by not counting photos and links toward its 140-character limit, according to a report from Bloomberg today. The change may happen in the coming weeks, and it would remove one of the more annoying product hurdles that has persisted on Twitter for years. Links and photos currently hog 23 and 24 characters respectively.

Huh?

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. For one thing, seeing so much copy written about a lot of speculation, especially after the whole 10,000 characters fiasco not too long ago which probably had more credibility because Jack Dorsey made some obscure reference to the possibility.

Secondly, Twitter reportedly declined to make any comment. In other words, Twitter either won’t confirm it because –

  • it’s just another rumour about something Twitter is still thinking about;
  • Twitter isn’t going to make the change; or
  • Twitter is being coy because it thinks this sort of frenzy might just convince all those Facebook users to switch.

Lastly, surely this sort of “news” isn’t worth all this attention? We’re literally talking about roughly two dozen characters where people either post multiple tweets to express a whole thought or do what Dorsey did back in January and publish an image of a lot of text. To add to that, a lot of people even publish thoughts that can’t be contained in 140 characters in those things we old-timers call “blogs” (it’s a real thing and it’s in the dictionary).

It might happen

If this change comes to pass, it will be a good thing. Twitter shouldn’t be counting links and media in the already constrained character limit and commentators have been calling for this change for years.

It won’t change the tweetstorms, tweets attaching images of longer texts and other stuff. It will just mean that users can probably avoid publishing multi-part tweets when they happen to be a word or two over the limit and still want their tweets to be intelligible.

Making this change won’t bring about peace in our lifetime; fix global warming or make the wifi on my train work any better. It really isn’t that big a deal, people.

Whether to celebrate Israeli independence?

A debate flared up about whether to wholeheartedly celebrate Israeli independence. The debate highlights different politics and, at the same time, a shared passion for Israel.

A debate about whether to wholeheartedly celebrate Israeli independence (it was celebrated last Thursday) has erupted on the Web. It started with Sarah Tuttle-Singer’s Facebook post on 9 May:

She qualified her post a couple days later:

Bat Zion Susskind-Sacks published a response to Sarah’s post on her Times of Israel blog, titled “Open Letter to Sarah Tuttle Singer” which was pretty pointed:

This morning I read a pseudo parody of Tuttle-Singer’s post published by Justin Amler and titled “Why I can wholeheartedly celebrate Israel’s Independence Day” which I enjoyed too (thanks to Rolene for the share on Facebook)

Update (2016-05-16): Also read Amler’s follow-up article on Israel Diaries titled “It’s wonderful to be a Jew on Yom Haatzmaut“:

Justin Amler: It’s wonderful to be a Jew on Yom Haatzmaut

I don’t particularly want to wade into this debate even though I align more with Amler than I do with Tuttle-Singer (who, by the way, I think is wonderful even if I don’t share her politics).

If anything, this debate highlights very different perspectives on Israel expressed by Israelis and Jews across the political spectrum. No surprises there. One of the traits that tend to stand out for new immigrants is how Israelis have a tendency to have what seem to be full-blown arguments with each other, almost routinely. It’s practically a national sport and they are rarely meant to be taken particularly personally.

What we share is a passion for this land. Our land.

Image credit: my daughter who loves ארץ ישראל