Tag Archives: Guides

How to Write For Video Games Part 1: World Plotting

Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, a singl...

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As some of my faithful readers from the old days at thePuckWrites may remember, I wrote the story, quests, and designed the classes for an upcoming online game called Ghostees!. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, and since I know that many young creatives feel drawn to games (I know I do) I thought I would do a series about what is necessary when writing for a game.

For the purposes of this series, we are going to assume your game is a role-playing game because these require the most writing. If you are writing for action or strategy games, you will need to tighten up your dialogue and plot a great deal, but you have much less to worry about in the long run because there are fewer possibilities. While in an RPG each decision and will have different possible results, your average FPS or RTS has only two possibilities: live or die.

How to Build a World

Your client or boss has a basic idea of what kind of game she wants. A number of other titles are thrown at you as examples. Genres are considered and abandoned. Finally, all that will be done for you is done, and you have to create your world plot. Now what?

A world plot is the story that the player, whether with others in an online game or alone, has their story take place within. This is the background history of the world, the basic conflicts at work in the big picture, and the basis for your general quest progression. An example is in Warcraft: the storyline originally comes from three real-time strategic games and was adapted for World of Warcraft. This background story defines the locations of gameplay (Azeroth, the Outlands) and establishes the basic factions (Human, Orc, Undead, Night Elves, Dwarves, etc) and their various conflicts. Additionally, the events of the prior games established even more history, defining new conflicts and specific enemies.

Now examine how all of this world plotting works to create the rest of the game. Once you have your world plotted you have a place for the player’s characters to be from, groups for them to both identify with and have conflicts with, and a set of larger plots for them to take part in as their characters become more powerful. In the case of WoW, their world plot has given them an almost endless supply of material for expansions, quests, races, classes, and locations. So when first conceiving your world plot you have to take all of this into account.

So what does it take to make a good world plot?

Consistency

Your world plot must be consistent in its history and rules. This doesn’t mean things can’t change, but it does mean they have to change for a reason. In the plot of Warcraft, the orcs went from demon-worshipping necromancers bent on destruction to tribal warriors profoundly concerned with honor and loyalty. The game mechanic that drove this decision was a desire to make  players better able to identity with the orcs and to render the duality in Warcraft, which had before been about good and evil, a bit more ambiguous. This was a money-decision…they wanted more sides and races so they could attract more players. However, in-game they made sure to justify the change using information from the game lore. Always make sure the events in your world plot are consistent, because contradictions make for a weaker story and a weaker game.

Fertility

A good world plot is defined enough to make writing quests easy but flexible enough to give birth to new sub-plots, creatures, and NPCs. More content will be the cry you will hear from happy project managers, supervisors, and players, so if you wrote yourself into a corner you are screwed. You can’t have there be a single big bad boss, because then you have nowhere to go when your players beat that boss. You can’t have the whole world divided up between two factions and then introduce a third as the project leads you. A closed story, however easy it becomes to build your conflict and plot your quest progression, is a mistake. Instead, build worlds where there is plenty of information to add depth, but plenty of unknowns to leave yourself room for expansion.

The game Mass Effect does this perfectly: the main storyline is truly epic, with a plot spanning millennia. However, the world plot of the game allows for new races, locations, sub-plots, and now a sequel to branch off convincingly. This is because the world plot of Mass Effect is open…its basic premises define it without limiting it. Do likewise.

Tropes and Atmosphere

Tropes are repeating motifs that exist in stories. They are things like “the haunted house”, “the wise old man”, “the lover lost and regained”, and so on. Specific genres have specific tropes, so science fiction has the monster that turns out to really be a man and horror has the man that turns out to be a monster, and both of them, once identified by the audience, can be predicted. However, tropes are useful; they are like cliches in that they sort of work. The secret is not to avoid tropes, but to use them sparingly and well to create an atmosphere that guides the expectations of the audience. You can’t lead them by the nose, but you have to let them know there is something to be led to, otherwise they will get bored.

In a game, tropes are often used to establish the kind of game you are playing. A science fiction game like Fallout 3 will use different kinds of monsters and plot devices to characterize what sort of story it is than Oblivion, another RPG made by the same people using the same engine. An easy way to figure out your tropes is to think about the monsters and locations. While Dead Space and Silent Hill both feature themes of isolated locations with visually disturbing enemies, and both are indubitably horror games, they use the “abandoned town” vs the “abandoned ship” motif to characterize their genre. This example is meant to be obvious, but tropes can be very subtle (and should be!), and also illustrates the proper use of tropes: tropes characterize and establish atmosphere, they are not a replacement for real characters and stories. In your world plot you must use tropes to quickly and easily create the player’s expectations and allow them to see what kind of game they are playing, but avoid simply using generic tropes as your plot points.

Stay Tuned!

That’s it for this installment. Next in this series we will cover lore writing and the details of how to write good background stories. Please feel free to ask questions on world plotting or add pointers of your own below.

Free eBook: Shua Peters’ and Jacob Morgan’s New “Social Media for Authors”

I love to plug great content that is overlooked, and Josh “Shua” Peters and Jacob Morgan have given us gold so that I, thePuck, can in turn pass on to you. Their ebook covers both of my pet subjects (writing and social media) and addresses issues like:

  • What is social media?
  • When Should I get Involved?
  • Why Should I get Involved?
  • Where’s the Action?
  • The Tools

The best part is the tools sections, where Shua and Jacob give a quick and simple run-down of the major tools of modern social media promotion focused towards authors. They cover:

  • Blog
  • RSS Readers
  • Twitter
  • Twitter Search
  • Google Alerts
  • Google Analytics
  • Red Room (a social network just for authors that they are managing to share with you before me! See how awesome they are?)
  • and more!

The ebook is free (as in beer) and you can read it right here, on Shua’s site Shuaism (which you should subscribe to) or at Scribd (which you should have an account on, as Shua and Jacob will inform you) here:

Social Media for Authors

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How To Find New People On Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Well, as everyone has been noting, Twitter is now thoroughly mainstream. Once you have Oprah and her legions on a service, it has definitely left the exclusive realm of geeks and early adopters. Unlike some of my peers, I do not resent the presence and arrival of the celebrities and their virtual entourages. However, I do recognize that all these newcomers might be a bit overwhelmed. While Twitter itself is simple, the assorted applications and services built around it are most assuredly not, so newcomers might not know how to find new twitterers to follow. While there are many services out there trying to build a business model on top Twitter, many of them are poorly conceived or poorly implemented and are of little help. Since I have been through most of them and seperated much of the wheat from the chaff, I decided to share my favorite services for finding new people on Twitter.

Mr. Tweet

Mr. Tweet is a simple service. From their site:

Mr. Tweet is your personal networking agent who helps you expand your network easily. To do that, he helps you regularly:

1. Get relevant followers by recommending you to them
2. Discover great people relevant to your current needs
3. Improve your Twitter usage via useful statistics

All you do is follow Mr. Tweet on Twitter and a few days later he sends you a direct message with a link to a page with suggestions for you to follow. The app keeps various statistics on different users so you can intelligently decide whether or not to follow. Every few weeks thereafter you will get another DM with new users for you to follow. Mr. Tweet also works together with Topify, a great service for dealing with the abundance of email that a strong Twitter account can generate.

WeFollow

WeFollow is a user driven directory that uses hashtags to classify people and organizations on Twitter. It was started a little while back by Kevin Rose and already has a strong following. There you can add yourself under three tags (such as #writer #socialmedia #tech) and others will find you, or you can search for others based on their hashtags. The site also shows you top twitterers according to various standards and give links and details for their accounts.

Twitseeker

Twitseeker is a very simple search engine that allows you to seek out users based not on how they classify themselves, but what they are tweeting about. From their site:

TwitSeeker is basically an alternate search engine for finding twitter.com users – “twits” – and browsing the results all in one combined control panel. It works by using the twitter.com API, and finds twits not by what’s posted in their bios but rather based on what they’ve been tweeting about lately. It uses a custom tag cloud generator written by the author, and was created as an experimental tool to help users quickly build up a twitter community around specific topics.

As people find you and you find them, the service send you an @ reply which plugs them, you, and the person you found or found you, which is a nice what of spreading your social presence around.

TwitterPacks

I have written on TwitterPacks before, but I wanted to plug them again because of how awesome their site is. TwitterPacks is a wiki that allows people to add themselves and their information to packs sorted by location, interest, profession, company, and topic. What makes the site so awesome is their AutoPack script which allows you follow an entire pack at a time. A few caveats: the site is user-driven and thus can be a little slow and disorganized. The AutoPack script is sometimes slow, and if you don’t take yourself out of any pack before following it will cause an error. Additionally, because TwitterPacks is user-driven and hosted on a shared server, when there is a lot of traffic the site or the AutoPack script might simply fail to be served. Just wait a while and try again.

Twibes

Twibes is a neat little directory that allows you to form groups on Twitter similar to a social network like Facebook. You connect your account and you can either start or join a “twibe” (twitter tribe) based on similar interests. This is simple in concept, but is powerful in social media as it allows mini-communities to form within the larger community of Twitter. While this post is aimed at new Twitterers, old hats will recall that we have been asking for groups for a long time, and this service grew up in response to that demand.

Add your favorites to the list

I know many of my readers are already very involved in social media and probably are gnashing their teeth that I left out their favorite service…so make your voices heard and list your favorite way to find new twitterers in the comments and I will add them to the list.

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Find Twitterers by Topic, Interests, Company, and Location with TwitterPacks

Well, it finally had to happen. Twitter is mainstream.

Twitter, and social media in general, have become mainstream. It gets talked about on international television, reported on in the mainstream media, and the service is enjoying the surge in users that all this attention has brought. But there remains a problem for all these new users…how do you find who to follow and gain followers yourself who are going to tweet about things that interest you? The answers are out there, but being new to the social media scene, many of these new users get disillusioned quickly and end up leaving in frustration. Abandoned Twitter pages abound with 8 tweets, all along the lines of “Hello? Is anyone out there? Is this thing on?”, leaving a ghost-town where new microbloggers could have been.

Always use the right tools for the right job.

There are various tools out there for automatically finding new people to follow and to list yourself. Recently @kevinrose released WeFollow, a user-driven directory of twitterers using hashtags. Another popular tool is Mr. Tweet, which uses various methods for suggesting followers based on their streams. These tools have their place, but I dislike their simplicity and passiveness. I like to browse, and sometimes hashtags, however useful, are just not good categories for finding what you are interested in. Because of all of this I like Twitterpacks a great deal, and wanted to do a little write-up on it because I don’t see it mentioned or discussed very much and it really is a nice little project that deserves some mention and respect.

What Twitterpacks is.

TwitterPacks is a wiki (built on PBWiki) where users can register and add their own link to their Twitter page and a short line about who you are (if you wish). The wiki breaks people up into categories like topics they cover, interests, location, company, and whatever other categories people want to add. Like any wiki, it is what the users make it, and this wiki has a community of users that have built a simple directory that they keep as neat and clean as possible.

By itself, this would be nothing more than a list of links and, while better than just blindly following people, makes the task a chore, especially when you are getting started and want to follow a large group in a particular region or industry. However, TwitterPacks has dealt with that, supplying a script they call Autopack, which allows you to select an entire category and follow them (or unfollow them) all at once. While the script does require your password, it passes it off directly to the Twitter API without creating any kind of account or login on-site. I have used the site for months with no issues and no one has ever said a thing about security problems, so I don’t have a problem recommending the site, but be aware that any application that requires you to use your password can be a security risk. Be careful.

What TwitterPacks is not.

TwitterPacks is not a flashy, pretty, AJAX-driven service where you “set it and forget it”. It takes some work to find all the places you wish to be listed, make the entries, and save the edits for each page. You do have to actually find the topics you are interested in and use the Autopack feature manually. The Autopack script is also limited, as it is being served from a donated server, and can very slow in returning large requests. On very large follow or unfollow commands it can time-out, and if you don’t make sure your own account isn’t somewhere on the list it can produce errors. As a user-driven community, TwitterPacks is funded by donations, and we all know how problematic that can be. All of these things make Twitterpacks a bit of work, and while I highly recommend it, know that it is by no means perfect.

Any others?

Tools like this are invaluable in building a strong social media presence and personal brand, an ongoing concern for anyone who wants to be able to make it in new media. I mentioned a few of my favorite tools, but I know of dozens I didn’t mention and I am sure there are many more. What are your faves?

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Three Strategies for Success in New Media

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Concern about the death of traditional print media is all over the blogosphere. Newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor have been forced to take up online strategies in order to compete, and from this new approaches such as the New York Times social network have arisen. In light of this, the question arises:how can the modern writer be successful in a world where the traditional writing jobs are fading away?

Get Diverse

Once upon a time, a writer picked a niche and ran with it. The choice of what you wanted to write and where you wanted it to be printed decided how you wrote, what the best practices and standards were, and how you should attempt to build your career. Books on how to be a writer would differ wildly based on what kind of writer you wanted to be.

Maybe this made sense before the internet, but now it just doesn’t work. As a professional freelance writer, I write in so many different styles and for so many different purposes from day to day that focusing my efforts into only one approach is impossible. In the last few months I have written quests for an upcoming video game, informational articles on computer gadgets at BrightHub, movie reviews, and blog posts on all sorts of topics. Right now my “big” job is copywriting for a start-up. On top of this, I still write my fiction, which will soon be appearing on a new site.

The point of this is that you can’t afford to pigeon-hole yourself into any kind of writing. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “What about inspiration? What about art?” Well, that becomes the difference between writing professionally and being an artist. You can do both, but your attitude is different when you want to write professionally, and you focus on different things.

It is possible that if you are incredibly gifted and lucky, you can write precisely what your inspiration calls you to write and nothing else and make that your career. However, the much greater likelihood is that you need to see your writing as any other professional skill, and thus keep it flexible and open to the needs of the moment. Thus you must diversify your writing and be able to write for any media, as needed.

Get Educated

As the incorporation of new media into the mainstream continues, the needs of the writer’s craft will change. Already we have seen some of these changes, as SEO and social media have become more and more important to online writing. The simple fact is that as the technologies shift, the very definition of what we do changes. Just as I doubt many writers of my generation have done too much of their work on typewriters, I doubt many writers of the next generation will do too much work where search-engine optimization and online technologies do not play a role. If you refuse to learn about these new technologies you are making your skills less valuable, and some other writer who has done their homework will get the jobs that could have been yours.

Get Creative

New media allows for a new kind of writing. As I have written about elsewhere, microblogging has some interesting implications for fiction writers. I think there are even more interesting possibilities with modern technologies, where stories can be structured to unfold over various forms of social media, including video, microblogs, and even leaving trails of social bookmarks and forum posts. Consider the strange tale of John Titor. Ignoring the issue of whether he was really a time traveler, his tale is interesting and the fact that it was delivered across message boards points to hidden possibilities of fiction and meta-fiction. Viral ad campaigns such as that used for Heroes, while used as a way to gain buzz, point the way to stories told across multiple mediums and technologies.

Final Word

Traditional media may very well be dying, or it may become a form of backup media, like we have seen happen to radio. Writers, whether of stories or advertising copy, need to think seriously about the strategies that will allow them to keep plying their trade in the days to come. However, these ideas are just the beginning; what other strategies can writers use to ensure their success in the changing world?

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Online Promotion for On and Offline Work

Cover of "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us&...

Cover of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

In the wake of Seth Godin‘s new book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”, Chris Brogan has a great post on how to promote your book online that I wanted to make sure everyone saw. I also wanted to say that I have been considering the exact same issue. While I love the world of marketing and copywriting, and I love the online world, my truest desire is to write my fiction full-time. This led me to considering how to do such a thing through new media and how to promote it, and I came up with a strategy that I wanted to add to Chris’s post.

Obviously, promoting fictional work online is different than promoting non-fiction work. People want something different out of a good story than they want out of instructional work. People are going to keep coming back to see what happens next rather than to learn something new.

There are two traditional ways of drawing that reader back for the next part of the story. There is the serial and there is the franchise. The serial is an ongoing tale where the story is progressed in basically linear way with each installment, while a franchise is a world, a setting and set of characters that can engage in various adventures. The best ongoing tales combine a little of both, and so we have Star Wars and Star Trek, Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings, where the tales are interconnected by a common world and there are overarching storylines connecting the various stories, but each installment does not necessarily progress in a linear fashion from its predecessor.

This way of doing things can be far more difficult than just creating a good story, because there is a type of internal consistency that is required from the different stories. A good series and world go on to live beyond the author in the hearts and minds of the readers, and they will be quick to point out the flaws. A good article on this subject is “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” by Philip K. Dick. Like no other writing, a series must give the appearance of history and depth. Writing a good outline and exposition for the series as a whole can help with this immensely.

Does anyone has any thoughts or examples of a good instance of online fiction?

Picking a Genre in New Media

Journal and penWriters in traditional media eventually have to choose a genre to write in. No one can do everything, and so like every other profession, writers specialize. Some genres are defined by the type of settings and plots used, like horror, science-fiction, and fantasy. Others categories are defined by their content, like historical writings, academic works, and poetry. In new media we also have to specialize, but the genre’s are slightly different. This list will cover the basic categories of online writing.

1. Informational Blogging

By far the most popular of online content, informational blogs allow writers to share their interests, skills, and knowledge with interested readers. This is probably the easiest form of blog, as your own favorite subject is all you need to start out. Just pick something you know a lot about, from wine-making to stamp-collecting, and write short instructional pieces.

2. News

Writing news in an online world is a very different beast than writing for traditional media. Speed is of the essence, and deciding what kind of news you want to focus on is key. In addition to this, you must add content to your news, some sort of analysis or commentary, not just repeat your source. To get started covering news, pick a “beat”, a subject, field, area, or industry that interests you. Find your sources, which can be blogs and other social media as well as traditional sources. Find people online who are involved in your “beat” and try and establish contact with them, allowing you to hit them up for comments and thoughts…this is one place where social media and networking can really make a difference. Make sure to always cite your sources, linking to them when possible.

3. Fiction and Fan-Fiction

Many storytellers use their blog as their primary means of getting their writing out into the world. Whether you are writing your own stories from the ground up or using the characters and settings of someone else, you can make a name for yourself that will allow you to make the transition to selling your work to traditional publishers. Another tactic is to use your blog for short stories or short-short stories and then sell your longer works through e-books. If you are technically inclined you can create your e-books yourself, and if not you can use a service such as Lulu, which will allow you to convert your document and add a cover, as well as allowing you to sell printed copies on demand through your site or through retailers like Amazon.

4. Comedy and Parody

Technically a form of fiction, online comedy and parody can become viral like nothing else. Cracked, CollegeHumor, and the Onion are some of the most trafficked sites on the web because people love to laugh and the humor is quick, topical, and speaks to the concerns of the average netizen. However, not everyone can do funny, and you should consider deeply whether you can truly hack it. If so, pick your tactic and have at it, but the competition is steep. Also remember that, in comedy more than any other field, you have to make your content stand-out…while it is fine for just about every fantasy tale to include magic, the net just doesn’t need any more sites specializing in pictures of everyday things with humorous or absurd captions.

5. Collections

The internet is very big, and despite the best efforts of our overlords at Google, it is very hard to find what we want. This means that collecting lists of links, images, videos, and other content and summarizing why they are interesting is its own genre, with its own readers. While sites like Digg and Delicious have taken this genre and run with it, many subjects are obscure enough (and the web big enough) to make collections a very viable genre. Again, go for a niche, some subject that interests you and you can follow eagerly, and then simply collect the best content and summarize it for others. Collections can also be a good way to finish out a week of other posts by using a “best links of the week” theme.

6. Diaries, Opinions, and Rants

While this genre is hard to pull of well, some people really are interesting enough that their general thoughts can compell readers. This is a difficult call to make, because almost everyone thinks their own thoughts and opinions are interesting even though they are not. A good example of someone who can pull this off is Norimoto over at AvenueToTheReal, who blends humor and absurdity with serious social commentary and philosophical questioning. This kind of writing can be very cathartic, but beware: your readership may be low.

7. Reviews and Product Reports

Increasingly, people rely on other people rather than marketing to tell them about the products and services they want to buy. This means that if you happen to read a lot of books, go to a lot of movies, or buy a lot of gadgets, your personal experiences with them and expertise will help others get feedback and information about their interests. The Movie Space is a great example of a blog with multiple authors who have parlayed their collective knowledge of movies into some sizable traffic. Just like with an informational blog, pick something you are very interested in and have a great deal to say about…a book review that says “I liked it” or “It was boring” and nothing else will get little attention.

Final Word

This list is meant to help you figure out not just how to write for new media, but what to write about. It is not definitive, as these categories are coming into existence and changing as you read this. If anyone can think of any genre’s or categories I may have missed, please let me know.

How to Write for the New Media

Writers write, and we like to think we do it well. But sometimes what we were taught in writing classes and have learned from reading will mean death in online media. This is because the medium is so vastly different and people have different needs from the new media than they did from the old. Here are some tricks and tips for developing a new media writing style.

1. Go Short

In school and literature, often we are taught that more is better. If you can slip in more detail, another source, or another idea, you should. Well, this is just plain wrong in the new media. Here we have to capture a reader who with the click of a mouse can be somewhere else. They are not a professor paid to read a paper or a book-reader sitting and relaxing in a nook. They are on a computer and working in a very “hot” (interactive) medium. Keep your posts and articles between 400 and 700 words. If you absolutely must go longer, consider splitting the post up into a series. DO NOT go for the “multi-pager”. It does not work, nobody reads it and if you keep trying to write your magnum opus you will lose readers.

2. Avoid Big Blocks of Texts

Break your articles up into multiple paragraphs. What seems like over-formatting in a book or magazine can be perfect for a post because of the difference in how they are read. People’s eyes react differently to text on a screen. Use pictures, changes in font size, and lists to break your content up into meaningful chunks. The goal is that at any point a person could finish up a section in just a few seconds and easily come back for the next chunk later.

3. Avoid the Passive Voice

In school we learn to speak in the passive voice to record facts. This makes things very “objective” and “neutral” sounding, but is not what people are looking for online. There are a billion other things they could be reading that can all be objective, but they will read your work because it is yours. Make your writing drip with active verbs and your own personality. Let your voice come through so strongly that the reader will hear you in their head.

4. Lead the Reader

The formatting of online content is always a problem, but the best thing you can do is let your content guide the reader’s eyes and mind. Use lists, headings, and text styling to lead the reader’s eyes to the important points. This is what is sometimes called the “Command to Look” from a book by the same name.

5. Make Your Content “Hot”

This is the internet, web 2.0 thank you very much, and we want our content to be dynamic. We want links, video, and the ability to converse. Pepper your articles with interactivity, even to the point of asking questions for your readers to answer. If you refer to something, link it (but only the first time!), if you say there was a video, include it in the post.

6. SEO

Ok, get the groan out of your system. I know plenty of the community has a bad opinion of SEO, but I don’t agree with them. Search engine optimization is simply par for the course; you have to deal with it. Some simple tips are:

  1. Format your post titles to include the most well-known keywords for your article’s subject.
  2. Write your post to include a few repetitions of various keywords pertinent to your article (don’t oversaturate).
  3. If you are hosting your own blog, make sure your post titles come first in your page titles. The reason for this is that search engines only show the first part of the title, so if your blog title comes first then, even if you are on the front page, all people will see is the blog title, which makes them unlikely to click.
  4. Also, if you are hosting your own blog, make sure that you set your title page, archives, and tag pages to show only excerpts of your post contents. Search engines frown heavily on duplicate content.

7. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple. No, really. Really simple. Avoid clarifying clauses, complicated thoughts, and involved sentences. This is not say you can’t write difficult ideas…just break them down. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. The reason for this is (again) about how people read on the internet. Since people are always multi-tasking, being able to come back to an article and read it in little chunks without losing the thread of the thought is absolutely necessary.

Final Word

Following these simple steps you can increase your reader loyalty and the uselfulness of your posts. People will be able to get what they need from your content easily and efficiently, which will make your posts and articles appealing and useful, which means people will come back to read more and pass on your work to other potential readers and clients. Help your readers read and they will stay loyal, make them work too hard and they will just click something else.

Does anyone else have any good writing tips for new media?


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Two Key Concepts for Staying Sane in Social Media

A whole lot of FriendFeed subscriptionsOne of my readers made a request for a sequel to Ten Steps to Being Everywhere in Social Media, which is now (thanks to all of you) my most popular post and responsible for about a third of my total traffic.

XIII writes:

I’m looking forward to the sequel; How to keep up with reading everything.

While I can’t help anyone read faster or be able to concentrate on more content than they are capable of, there are a few tips and techniques that I use for staying caught up. As before, this is a tentative guide, as the technologies are always changing and no large scale solution exists as of yet. One of the things I am working on is a project to do exactly that, putting all of the data in one place for people who interested in this sort of thing. If any of my wonderful readers and friends are interested in a new project with serious potential, please let me know…thanks to my social density I am very easy to contact!

Now, on to how to stay sane in the world of social media!

1. Attitude

Having the right attitude about social media is the first step in managing it. This is because many people have weird expectations and thus get overwhelmed or turned off. Even worse, some people end up feeling that social media is “invasive”, as I saw mentioned in a tweet the other night. Social media does not have to be overwhelming or invasive, you just have to remember a few things:

  1. The internet is not a physical space. It is not necessary for you to simply accept every interaction that comes your way in order to avoid being rude. If you don’t like what someone has to say or has on their profile, then don’t interact with them. Out of all the people online, one less won’t hurt you or them.
  2. The internet is not a bunch of little places (websites and services) any more than the universe is simply a bunch of things that are in it. Both of these realms are actually made up of the interactions that happen between the “things” that are in them. Remember that no one technology or website is the “world”…always the whole internet. Move through the internet like it is your world, and move through specific sites and services as if they were neighborhoods.
  3. It is important to see your movements through the internet as being continuous with your normal life. In normal life your interests, needs, likes, and dislikes guide you and lead to you interacting with others in certain ways. Similarly, on the internet you can trust a large part of social media to do the work of connecting you with other people. Trust the tags and the searches to connect you with others and don’t stress about finding an “in” crowd. Crowds form around interested and passionate people doing what they love, not people trying to form crowds.
  4. You are not alone. If you are having a problem, it is likely other people have had the same problem, and it is also likely that some of those people found solutions. When you get frustrated, do a search or ask around. Social media is new, and everyone is “just learning”.
  5. In physical space, your identity is unified because you can only be in one place at one time. Online, your identity is distributed among all the different places and times you interact. You are everywhere you make a change, and because of the archiving nature of the net, you are everywhen you have made change, as well. Thus you can be lazy when you need to be, because the posts, feeds, forums, and so on will still be there for you to get to. While it is important to strike while the iron is hot when you are trying to create something new, reading and staying in the loop can happen at your leisure.

2. Managing the Flow of Data

As with the entire internet, staying caught up and keeping the information useful depends on certain technologies. Optimizing this process isn’t about interacting with the information faster, but managing how you interact with it.

  1. Friendfeed‘s Imaginary Friend Feature– Yeah, everyone loves FriendFeed, but few people use one of it’s most interesting and scalable of features: Imaginary Friends. This feature allows you to create a “fake” stream. Just go to “Friend Settings”–>”Imaginary”–>”Create Imaginary Friend”. Name it something useful, like a category such as “Social Media People”, “Photographers”, or “News”. Then A feed of feedssimply add services or feeds. The best thing about this is it allows you to categorize your feeds and then follow those in your own RSS reader or FriendFeed subscriptions. And yes, you can make an imaginary friend from FriendFeed Atom streams, rooms for your imaginary friends, imaginary friends of room feeds, and so on. The FriendFeed structure is so scalable you can implement ever higher levels of categories and get as fine-tuned as you want.
  2. Technorati‘s Connected Pings From Favorites – A lot of people bag on Technorati, but look at it this way: they ping so you don’t have to. Set up an account just for this purpose, and favorite the blogs you want to follow. When they ping, you will get an update. The reason this is better than just subscribing to their feed is that you will be able to see the pingbacks and favoriting from connecting blogs, which allows you to expand your interaction with the blogosphere in incremental steps rather than huge numbers of new posts to read. Part of managing your flow of data is making new information come in bite-size chunks, and this technique allows for that.
  3. Focus Your Attention – Pick your favorite services based on your needs and temperament, then live there and automate the rest. For example, you can aggregate your friends and follows from less used services like Jaiku and have them stream to an Imaginary Friend in FriendFeed, then just live in FriendFeed and use Ping.fm to post to all your less used accounts. I personally lived primarily in Twitter and FriendFeed before I got into Plurk, and now I live in Plurk, Twitter, and FriendFeed. I use Twhirl to get my updates in nice little bursts and reply to @s and direct messages, and use SocialAddict to scan through everything it carries and to post to Ping.fm. Between that and my feeds, I have no problem staying on top of everything.

Final Word

I hope this helps get the information flow under control for some people. I find that these techniques really help and that I have no problem staying on top of my different connections. As all of friends on my various services can attest, I respond to just about every shout, @, and direct message, am active in conversations on Plurk, Twitter, and FriendFeed, and read and comment on many blogs and sites. I am also working on several other projects and I guest-blog on various sites. My fiance, cats, and clients can also attest that I manage to get my work done and attend to my personal life. I even manage to have some leisure time every once in a while. This level of combination of attitude, aggregation, categorization, and automation is how I do it, and with similar techniques I am sure others can get similar results.

Coming up!

I have gotten some really good feedback on the idea, so I am going to be launching a new blog in the next day or so on social media philosophy. It will cover all of the philosophical angles of social media and the changes it is causing in the way identity, meaning, and knowledge is perceived. My degree is in philosophy and (like most geeks) I was a very good student, so I hope to be able to bring some new ideas to the table. Stay tuned for the launch announcement!

Also, tomorrow (July 28) is my birthday. In lieu of presents, please send traffic! 😆

Ten Steps to Being Everywhere in Social Media

So you want to be everywhere?Social Media Service Logos

I think that to succeed in the social media world, a key concept is social density. I work towards this by constantly looking for new sites and services to maintain a presence on and being active in many different microblogging communities. I also manage to at times have a life and do the writing that pays the bills. I do this by using a few different techniques to streamline my interactions with the virtual world.

Recently I got a comment on this post and realized that it would be helpful to some of my readers to learn how I do this until something better comes along (any venture capitalists reading? :P).

1. Make a profile document

You are going to be entering certain information again and again for awhile. Get used to it, and get used to changing it. You can get a plugin for Firefox called Sxipper that can automate this process and also automate your logins. I very much recommend it.

Make a plain text document (use Notepad) and list the following information:

  1. First name
  2. Last name
  3. Nickname/Username (you won’t always get what you want, be prepared with alternatives)
  4. A single sentence that explains who you are and what you do
  5. A short bio that explains who you are and what you do with no links to your work or other profiles
  6. A slightly longer bio with links to your work or other profiles
  7. An even slightly longer bio that is pretty much your online resume
  8. Address
  9. IM accounts
  10. Main email account
  11. Three interests (separated by commas)
  12. Three musical genres or artists you like (separated by commas)
  13. Three favorite movies (separated by commas)
  14. Three favorite books (separated by commas)
  15. Three to seven tags (simple words or phrases people looking for a person like you might use in a search engine; for example, I commonly use “writer, freelance, social media”) (separated by commas)

2. Make a picture or logo

You will need a pic for many sites. Prepare three versions, one big, one small, one thumbnail.

3. Make accounts pt. 1

Go to the following sites and make accounts:

  1. Friendfeed
  2. Ping.fm
  3. Profilactic

4. Make accounts pt. 2

Go to Friendfeed and look at the different services they have that you can aggregate. Pick at least one site from each of the following categories:

  1. News (if you make just one choose Digg)
  2. Bookmarking (If you make just one choose StumbleUpon)
  3. Microblogging (if you make just one choose Twitter)
  4. Pictures (if you make just one choose Flickr)
  5. Social Profile (if you make just one choose Facebook)
  6. Business Profile (if you make just one choose LinkedIn)
  7. Music (if you make just one choose Last.fm)
  8. Video (if you make just one choose YouTube)
  9. Commenting (if you make just one choose Disqus)

5. Make accounts pt. 3

Go to Ping.fm. and there will be a list of services to which you can post updates. Go find each and every one of them except the blogs and make an account. That’s right. Every single one. Fill them out completely.

6. Aggregate your accounts

Go to your Friendfeed, Profilactic, and Ping.fm accounts and connect up all of your accounts. Make sure to put a feed from all your blogs on the lifestreams.

7. Downloads

Download and install:

  1. Adobe Air
  2. SocialAddict
  3. Twhirl

8. Use

Use SocialAddict to connect to Ping.fm. Use it for all normal microblogging. Use Twhirl to connect to your FriendFeed and Twitter accounts. You will then get updates from everyone you follow on both services and be able to interact with each service. Either put your Profilactic badge and lifestream on your blog or point people at them in your profiles so people can see what services you use. (The reason to use Profilactic is because it will aggregate services FriendFeed doesn’t).

9. Network

Use the search function on FriendFreed to find rooms and people you are interested in and follow them. Go to their profiles and add them on whatever you share in common. Some will add you, some will not. Get used to it. Do this at least once a week.

10. Be social!

Now use the service you have accounts with. When you read a post you like, submit it to news sites or vote for them. Peruse the news and bookmarks sites to find things you like and vote for them. Listen to music on your music site and favorite or scrobble or whatever the process is. Favorite your favorite videos. Comment on blogs. Live your online life in this social way. And most importantly, use the microbloggers.

Final words

This guide is tentative. The method is not as clean and easy as I would like, and the technologies and services offered change far too quickly for any guide to be definitive. Nonetheless, this is what I do, and I hope it helps at least the reader who asked the original question.

If you have any tips on further streamlining this process, please share! If you have any other similar questions, ask away and it might lead into a new post like this one!

Good luck and remember to be social!

Update:

I was reminded by Pamir of another great service that allows you to aggregate your services and create a dynamic online business card called Retaggr. Even though I have an account with them, I had completely forgotten about how useful it is. See, this why we need to be as social as possible: none of us can know everything or do everything, but working together we can succeed as if we do, and that is all that matters.

Update 2:

It occurs to me that a lot of people would like a Google link for searching for FriendFeed rooms. I got this from Andy Beard here so if you like it, give him some positive feedback.

Thanks for all the great comments and questions, everyone! Keep ’em coming!

Update 3:

Unless you are aching to be on every possible site, you can safely ignore my earlier advice about Profilactic and use FriendFeed for all your lifestreaming services. In the time since I wrote this post, FriendFeed has come leaps and bounds while Profilactic (sadly) has not. Sorry, Profilactic team, but I have to recommend the right tools for the job, and FriendFeed has most assuredly become the best tool.

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