Sharpening senses with social media


“I share, therefore I am.” In a previous post about enforcing our reality, I explored the concept of our evolving social-media presence, its possible dangers, and its perceived influence on “our total social reality”. Despite our social technophobia, social media “poses no more and no less of a social threat than any other technological breakthrough like the automobile, television, and Internet”.

But can social media be something more than simply “sharing your thoughts, feelings, photos, and lives with the online world”? More than simply “an effort to declare or enforce your perceived reality or existence”? Why not? If we look up beyond our impulsive two-second retweets, sharing thoughts can lead to exploring new ideas, uncovering new interpretations, and discovering new insights.

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Hi, my name is Jay, and I’m an IBM TRIRIGA information developer at IBM. When I launched my blog in November 2013, I knew next to nothing about cloud computing. But I didn’t let that stop me from learning the cloud basics. Now, 10 months later, I’ve sharpened my senses to a point where I’m finding flawed statements about IBM BlueMix PaaS and IBM Service Engage SaaS on other blogs!

What senses did I sharpen?

Although I’ve blogged as a hobby for years before “social media” became a household phrase, I’d never blogged on a professional level until late last year. So even if blogging hasn’t necessarily sharpened my physical senses, I can safely say that over the last year, I’ve definitely sharpened my senses of hunting — that is, hunting for hidden ideas and their more-deeply hidden connections.

In other words, instead of blogging about science-fictional and fantastical ideas in the fiction-based entertainment industry, I started from scratch with a more serious audience and more technical ideas in the real-world technology industry. But like I mentioned, I didn’t let that stop me. Looking back, I relied on two realizations to help me — my blogging experience and my career strengths.

As some of you might already know, I’ve also been a blogger for ages. Since 2005, I’ve played with nearly a dozen blogging accounts from LiveJournal to MySpace to Blogger to WordPress to Connections. But by far, my favorite platform is WordPress.

(1) Learner (YouTube: 1 minute) – “You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.”

(2) Ideation (YouTube: 1 minute) – “You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection.”

(3) Self-Assurance (YouTube: 1 minute) – “Self-Assurance is similar to self-confidence. In the deepest part of you, you have faith in your strengths. You know that you are able — able to take risks, able to meet new challenges, able to stake claims, and, most important, able to deliver.”

Why should I share my senses or strengths?

Why not? Actually, that’s one of the core reasons for anyone to blog in the first place — not only to share my more complex observations that might not fit in an instant tweet, but also to infuse my unique perspective, personality, and passions. Naturally, that requires self-confidence and a little selfishness. Otherwise, if I’d been too afraid of rejection, I’d probably remain an invisible observer.

In a recent comment, fellow blogger Tom Johnson discussed his “conundrum” with topic relevance. Whether a topic might be too specific or too general, there’s the common fear of reader rejection.

Looking broader, there are some ramifications to tool fragmentation with blogging. If I write a post about tips with this or that tool, it may only appeal to 5% of my readers. To stay relevant with blogging topics, I have to hit on topics common to larger percentages of tech writers in the community. At some point, those topics may get too general to actually be relevant. There seems to be a bit of a conundrum there.

Conversely, I typically bypass such “conundrums” by ignoring the percentages and following my passions, even if they seem unpopular. Besides, my personality might be more popular than I think!

Awesome news: 490 people saw a tweet I sent out this week! Awesomer still, 16 people either clicked the link, left a reply, or favorited the tweet. And as for the other 474 people? I couldn’t tell you… Meet social media’s invisible audience…

Back in 2006, bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba coined a term to describe the ratio of activity in online forums: The 1% Rule, also known as the 90-9-1 Rule.

  • 1 percent of users are creators
  • 9 percent of users are commenters
  • 90 percent of users are observers…

Here’s the thing… It’s not going to be 100 percent accurate for your audience. Paul Schneider tested the theory on his audience, finding a 70-20-10 ratio. The Community Roundtable noticed a split of 55-30-15 among their community. You’ll have your own ratio.

What about commenting on other blogs?

Interestingly, only after establishing my professional blog presence was I comfortable enough or courageous enough to comment on other professional blogs. Which makes sense. For me, it was a matter of establishing some credibility behind my comments. For others, depending on their level of activity or anonymity, keeping a consistent social-media presence is not a requirement or desire.

But perhaps my need for confidence reveals something else — that commenting on professional blogs is more terrifying that it looks! By stepping into the “wild wild web”, I’m no longer sheltered by the customized comfort of my own blog. Instead, I am entering another blogger’s home. Luckily, the same fear of rejection sharpens my focus, tears down my assumptions, and reveals more insights.

To illustrate how my comments on other blogs have evolved, let’s take a look at a few examples. First, with my CNET comment, I took a safe position. Nothing too controversial. Not that I should be.

jay_ibm (10 May 2014)

I guess I can understand targeting the less-technical mobile users — since typical mobile apps don’t show URLs — but there are still many technical folks who prefer to see or manipulate standard URLs on full websites too. It might not be wise to sacrifice one demographic for another. I think we all remember what happened with Windows 8.1.

CNET

CNET

CNET

CNET

With my MadCap comment, I think I got too carried away by the coincidences. So it feels like I’m trying too hard to point them out or stand out. That’s okay. I’d rather show passion than none at all.

Jay (14 May 2014)

Hi Jennifer! This is going to sound funny. I’m not sure if you remember my tweet about “speeding ahead” to MadCap Flare 10. But when I attended my first local STC chapter meeting last September, I was exposed to MadCap Flare for the first time too. Well, guess who gave that online presentation? Daniel Ferguson! It’s a small world. One of our STC members was a former colleague of Daniel, so she invited him to introduce Flare to our small Las Vegas group. And I was truly impressed by Flare. The funny part is that many months later, not only was I inspired to use a Japanese street racing metaphor, but Daniel used a Formula 1 racing metaphor too. As a newer Flare “racer”, I wasn’t crazy after all. Actually, it was reassuring. I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but Flare seems to stir a lot of racing emotions. :) ~Jay

MadCap Software

MadCap Software

MadCap Software

MadCap Software

With my IBM comment 3 months later, I realized a new confidence in my own cloud competence. I also didn’t like the idea of publishing flawed yet unchallenged information. Even by other IBMers.

jaymanalotoibm (17 Aug 2014)

Hi Maamar, just in case others might have the same question, can you clarify your statement that “The set of offerings runs on IBM Bluemix”? As I understand it, the BlueMix offering runs on the SoftLayer IaaS as a PaaS sandbox for developers to quickly assemble and deploy their application ideas. As a beta, Service Engage might’ve temporarily run on BlueMix as another emerging idea. But now that Service Engage is a public SaaS portal, this might no longer be true. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that “its SaaS offerings run on IBM SoftLayer”. In other words, beyond the portal, its SaaS offerings are not necessarily built with BlueMix PaaS tools, if at all. However, you can certainly use the APM SaaS offering to monitor your own BlueMix-built apps! Finally, although the current Service Engage FAQs discuss SoftLayer IaaS, I haven’t found anything yet about BlueMix PaaS. If I misinterpreted something, feel free to let me know. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

IBM: Thoughts on Cloud

IBM: Thoughts on Cloud

IBM: Thoughts on Cloud

IBM: Thoughts on Cloud

With my LinkedIn comment, I drew upon a similar confidence in my own XML-authoring experience. Although a LinkedIn group might not be a blog, I feel the same social-media fears and passions.

Jay Manaloto (18 Aug 2014)

Hi Linda, although my experience focuses on testing the XHTML and PDF content after the DITA source has been translated, transformed, and returned, sometimes as many as 14 languages per release, I’m not aware of any tool-specific gotchas in Oxygen XML. Unless your Oxygen XML tool is heavily configured or customized to change the source in some unique way, the DITA source should be independent of the preferred DITA tool. So your translation process should be the same whether you’re using Oxygen XML Author or Arbortext Editor or other DITA-XML tool. Just as your ZIP-packaging process should be the same whether you’re using WinZip, WinRAR, 7-Zip, or other standard ZIP tool. But George Bina would know for sure. :)

LinkedIn: oXygen XML

LinkedIn: oXygen XML

LinkedIn: oXygen XML

LinkedIn: oXygen XML

With my first-ever comment on Tom Johnson’s popular technical-communications blog, I achieved a personal milestone. In fact, Tom beat me to the punch by replying to one of my own blog posts first!

Jay Manaloto (18 Aug 2014)

Thanks Tom, thought-provoking! By putting your posts together, I’m getting the overall message that while DITA represents one of the more widespread forms of source “currency”, DITA simultaneously fosters a healthy range of tool “diversity”, whether advocating or avoiding it. “And we need more people to think differently.” Coincidentally, I stumbled across your posts at a time when I blogged about related signs on a wider and darker scale. For example, with the explosion of socio-mobile technology, it’s not unthinkable that the universal mobile-app experience might eclipse and eventually smother the “old school” web-browser experience where traditional topic-based content thrives. “Would it be poetic if IBM, which introduced DITA-XML authoring in 2001, helped to kill it by 2021?” I guess we’ll just have to wait… or innovate.

I'd Rather Be Writing

I’d Rather Be Writing

I'd Rather Be Writing

I’d Rather Be Writing

After my second comment on Tom’s blog, I achieved another milestone with his direct reply! For me, these exchanges of technical insights, big or small, are the most rewarding fruits of social media.

Jay Manaloto (19 Aug 2014)

Hi Tom, another thought-provoking post! One bullet that caught my eye was the frustration that: “You can’t easily re-use content for different audiences… Imagine having to update the same paragraph on six different WordPress sites.” To make the leap from DITA to WordPress, this issue would probably be one of the bigger obstacles, if not the biggest, to overcome. But after a bit of digging, I stumbled across the shortcode-friendly “Reusable Text Blocks” plugin (wordpress.org/plugins/reusable-text-blocks/). If you’ve already tried this across your multisite, I’m wondering how it fell short or failed. If not yet, then you might be able to combine this plugin with the “WordPress Conditional Content” plugin (wordpress.org/plugins/wp-conditional-content/) to refine the reusable content even further. In any case, I’d like to hear your thoughts, not so much on their benefits, but particularly on their limitations. Thanks!

Tom Johnson (19 Aug 2014)

Jay, thanks for the tip. I hadn’t see the Reusable Content plugin, but I’m familiar with shortcodes, and they work pretty similarly. I guess the challenge here is deciding whether to commit fully to WordPress. If you pepper your content with various shortcode tags, what happens if you want to output to PDF or push your content into some other format? You’d have the HTML, for sure, and could get it out that way. I’m just wary of inserting too many tags into content that are proprietary to a specific platform.

Then again, if you aren’t thinking of swapping out platforms, I’m not really sure what the benefits of authoring externally are? Overall, I’m just a little too timid to dive whole hog into WP for content authoring, but certainly the ability to update on the fly without republishing all the content is a much more practical workflow. I’m not quite at that point yet.

I'd Rather Be Writing

I’d Rather Be Writing

I'd Rather Be Writing

I’d Rather Be Writing

What are my final thoughts?

“Everything is connected. Connection is power.” Three months ago, in a post about watching the Watch Dogs, I explored the “Watch Dogs” video game and its hackable interpretation of the hyperconnected “Internet of Things” or IoT. Although I haven’t played the game in months, I can still recall the same senses of hunting — for hidden clues and their more-deeply hidden connections.

But even when I’m not consciously looking for clues or passionately hunting for connections, each tweet that I retweet, each article that I reshare, and each blog exchange that I experience adds yet another point to my metaphoric “skills tree” — whether it’s metaphorical hacking, combat, driving, or crafting — in “exploring new ideas, uncovering new interpretations, and discovering new insights”.

If I stay mindful of my virtual surroundings, even a two-second retweet can sharpen my senses.

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

Watch Dogs: Skills Tree

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