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If I had to make a list of the top 10 things I've done in my life that I regret, "writing a book" would definitely be on it. I took on the book project mostly because it was an opportunity to work with a few friends whose company I enjoy. I had no illusions going in about the rapidly diminishing value of technical books in an era of pervasive high speed Internet access, and the book writing process only reinforced those feelings.

In short, do not write a book. You'll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

As I see it, for the kind of technical content we're talking about, the online world of bits completely trumps the offline world of atoms:

  • It's forever searchable.
  • You, not your publisher, will own it.
  • It's instantly available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • It can be cut and pasted; it can be downloaded; it can even be interactive.
  • It can potentially generate ad revenue for you in perpetuity.

And here's the best part: you can always opt to create a print version of your online content, and instantly get the best of both worlds. But it only makes sense in that order. Writing a book may seem like a worthy goal, but your time will be better spent channeling the massive effort of a book into creating content online. Every weakness I listed above completely melts away if you redirect your effort away from dead trees and spend it on growing a living, breathing website presence online.

A few weeks ago, Hyperink approached me with a concept of packaging the more popular entries on Coding Horror, its "greatest hits" if you will, into an eBook. They seemed to have a good track record doing this with other established bloggers, and I figured it was time to finally practice what I've been preaching all these years. So you can now download Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code for an introductory price of $2.99. It's available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF formats.

 More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood)

I've written about the ongoing tension between bits and atoms recently, and I want to be clear: I am a fan of books. I'm just not necessarily a fan of writing them. I remain deeply cynical about current book publishing models, which feel fundamentally broken to me. No matter the price of the book, outside of J.K. Rowling, you're basically buying the author a drink.

As the author, you can expect to make about a dollar on every copy that sells. The publisher makes several times that, so they make a nice profit with as few as, say, five thousand copies sold. Books that sell ten or fifteen thousand are rare, and considered strong sellers. So let's say you strike gold. After working on your book for a year or more, are you going to be happy with a payday of ten to fifteen grand?

Incidentally, don't expect your royalty check right away. The publisher gets paid first, by the bookstores, and the publisher may then hold on to your money for several months before they part with any of it. Yes, this is legal: it's in the publisher's contract. Not getting paid may be a bummer for you, but it's a great deal for the publisher, since they make interest on the float (all the money they owe to their authors) - which is another profit stream. They'll claim one reason for the delay is the sheer administrative challenge of cutting a check within three months (so many authors to keep track of! so many payments!)... a less ridiculous reason is that they have to wait to see whether bookstores are going to return unsold copies of your book for a full refund.

Here's one real world example. John Resig sold 4,128 copies of Pro Javascript, for which he earned a grand total of $1.87 per book once you factor in his advance. This is a book which still sells for $29.54 on Amazon new.

Resig-book-check

Tellingly, John's second book seems permanently unfinished. It's been listed as "in progress" since 2008. Can't say I blame him. (Update: John explains.)

When I buy books, I want most of that money to go to the author, not the publishing middlemen. I'd like to see a world where books are distributed electronically for very little cost, and almost all the profits go directly to the author. I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon.

I admire people willing to write books, but I honestly think you have to be a little bit crazy to sit down and pound out an entire book these days. I believe smaller units of work are more realistic for most folks. I had an epic email discussion with Scott Meyers about the merits of technical book publishing versus blogging in 2008, and I don't think either of us budged from our initial positions. But he did launch a blog to document some of his thoughts on the matter, which ended with this post:

My longer-term goal was to engage in a dialogue with people interested in the production of fast software systems such that I could do a better job with the content of [my upcoming book]. Doing that, however, requires that I write up reasonable initial blog posts to spur discussion, and I've found that this is not something I enjoy. To be honest, I view it as overhead. Given a choice between doing background research to learn more about a topic (typically reading something, but possibly also viewing a technical presentation, listening to a technical podcast, or exchanging email with a technical expert) or writing up a blog entry to open discussion, I find myself almost invariably doing the research. One reason for this is that I feel obliged to have done some research before I post, anyway, and I typically find that once I'm done with the research, writing something up as a standalone blog entry is an enterprise that consumes more time than I'm willing to give it. It's typically easier to write the result up in the form of a technical presentation, then give the presentation and get feedback that way.

Overhead? I find this attitude perplexing; the research step is indeed critical, but no less important than writing up your results as a coherent blog entry. If you can't explain the results of your research to others, in writing, in a way they can understand, you don't understand it. And if you aren't willing to publish your research in the form of a simple web page that anyone in the world can visit and potentially learn from, why did you bother doing that research in the first place? Are you really maximizing the value of your keystrokes? More selfishly, you should always finish by writing up your results purely for your own self-improvement, if nothing else. As Steve Yegge once said: "I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging." Then you can take all that published writing, fold in feedback and comments from the community, add some editorial embellishment on top, and voilà – you have a great book.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that writing is just plain hard. Seth Godin's advice for authors still stands:

Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.

Which, I think, is also good life advice in general. Maybe the easiest way to lower your expectations as an author is by attempting to write one or two blog entries a week, keep going as long as you can, and see where that takes you.

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North Korea Youtube

One interesting element of modern North Korea is the tentative steps that the country has taken to embrace the online world. Take, for example, the flash-heavy website released earlier this year (that used a $15 template), or the official (though curiously unverified) Twitter account.

Perhaps its unsurprising then, that the country has had its own YouTube channel since 2010, with a good number of videos posted every day.

Most videos have barely a hundred or two views, and with good reason —few people within the country actually have access to the internet (and the government has good reason to suppress it). It appears that the videos are probably aimed at the wider world.

We sat and watched a number of the videos from the last year, and the videos are united in their love of emotional voice-overs, midi-orchestras, and unusual cross fades. Vaguely, they break up into certain categories, such as news broadcasts of grandiose public performances, nationalistic songs or cartoons for kids.

A news report from a theme park, which seems unusually empty.

Soldiers forming a kazoo army.

A news report from a bowling alley, also strangely empty.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

Please follow International on Twitter and Facebook.

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audience

Editor’s note: Vikram Goyal is founder of CraftGossip.com. Follow CraftGossip on Twitter @CraftGossip.

In Sept. 2007, I was on a well-deserved holiday, having spent an excruciating 11 months with a startup where 80-hour weeks were normal. I was the Chief Technology Officer and in my short tenure, I had gained new clients, setup the company infrastructure and trained a few interns. On the morning I came back from holiday, my office was packed up, and the bosses were in it to hand my stuff to me. They kicked me out of the door without so much as a thank you.

I went through the various stages of depression, and then realized that I had to come up with an action plan quickly to pay for the massive mortgage and the new baby.

With nothing more than an idea in mind, my wife and I started CraftGossip.com, a niche blog network covering everything that your grandma would be proud of, sewing, knitting, crochet. We also covered some new age favorites like indie crafts, edible crafts and home and garden. We decided to cover news related to the craft world (I explain later why we decided to start this site and not something else).

Since then, CraftGossip.com has become the number one craft site to go to, if you like your news crocheted, knitted or sewn. In 2011, our traffic roughly doubled. We have been courted three times in the last year alone for acquisition.

In this post, I will offer my thoughts on how a niche publishing site like ours can become successful.

Understanding our audience

The online world of Crafts/DIY is fragmented. On one end, you have the big players like the DIYNetwork.com whose web presence is part of a whole media strategy. On the other, you have a host of semi-independent sites like Craftster.org, Craftzine.com, and host of other mommy blogs. In 2007, if you wanted your information about new and interesting things in the paper making or jewelry making industry, you either read an off the shelf trade magazine or relied on main stream media to pick the information up in their supplements.

Our audience were mostly women (97% or more) in their late thirties with at least one kid. They had spare time on their hands. And they wanted to indulge in some creative pursuits. And they wanted to know about everything new and interesting in their pursuit.

We decided that this audience would be best served by a review site which would cover not only independent artists and their creations, but targeted industry behemoths. So, we started CraftGossip.com as a blog network, with separate sections to cover everything in sewing, knitting, crochet, paper crafts (since retired) and a few more.

It helped that my wife had started an independent site (Craftbits.com) that provided free patterns and projects since 2000, so she understood her audience well. That site had always been sent free goodies from major suppliers in the hope that we would use them in our projects and therefore write about them. Coupled with the knowledge gained in running that site and the audience research we did plus the lack of competition at that time helped us to create a site where we could talk about everything new and creative.

Understanding that it is all about the money

The biggest question we had while creating the site was how we were going to find and curate all that information. With a net cast as wide as we could, we had decided to indulge several categories, but we couldn’t ourselves find and write about them. We needed external people — our editors. To have editors, we needed to pay them. And therefore, the site needed to make money to be able to pay these people.
We decided to have ads all over the place. At last count, each page on our site had at least seven ads.
But our content is the king.

We have been slammed several times for having an excessive amount of ads. We have been slammed for having ads in the first place. But if you go to our site, you will immediately see where the content is and where the ads are. There are clear demarcations. You cannot confuse an ad for content. And this helps us to maintain integrity. Our design was changed just once in the last four years, and when we found that that wasn’t working we quickly reverted back. So our design is the same it has been when we started because it was the best design to incorporate our seven ad types.

Having to deal with different advertisers is a pain, but it helps us to keep afloat. It is a small price to pay. We accepted at the start of the site that the site needs to make money immediately, enough to pay our editors and for our efforts. In the process we created the go-to site for everything you wanted to find out about Craft/DIY.

Finding and maintaining the balance with our editors

I mentioned about our editors earlier. Each section on our site has its own editor as we found it impossible to maintain the site as well as find fresh and daily content to post. Between our 20 editors, we post nearly 30-40 new posts each day. Yes, each day our editors find 30-40 new items in the craft world that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

We require our editors to post at least five new articles each week. This maintains the freshness of each blog. But most editors post more than that, as they love their job!

Of course, the balance comes from almost complete independence in how they handle their traffic and content. They have editorial independence from us and in the last 4 years we have had to only pull content twice. This independence allows us independence as well from checking on them daily. We know that they are responsible for their content and we leave it at that.

The editors have a visceral interest in maintaining this independence as well. When we started, we decided that the way we will pay them is via a revenue share arrangement based on their traffic, and that this revenue share would be balanced in their favour. No other site or blog network I know has this arrangement where the revenue is in favour of the editors.

Paying them via a revenue share worked well for us as well. It helped us to start the network with the minimum of capital. We could only pay out what the site had earned – no more. In the years since, our most heavily trafficked site’s editor regularly earns over $2500 a month. Not bad for finding 5 new ideas a week to post about (although that editor posts much more than that).

Keeping our social media channels open and active

We were very late on this one. It was perhaps our inability to recognize that social media channels could be a great source of legitimate traffic. The problem was compounded by not understanding each social media channel and how to leverage individual strengths. Even now, our Twitter account languishes with only 15000+ followers, and the traffic from Twitter is out of our top 10 sources.

However, once we realized our folly, we increased our efforts in each channel. Mainly Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter, we used for maximum participation from our audience. We organized Facebook giveaways that required users to like us on Facebook (this has been outlawed by Facebook since then).

For example, we gave away a Kindle via Amazon in the race to get to 10000 fans. A prize like Kindle is a great incentive for our audience to participate (and a really easy prize for us to fulfill), so we asked them to not only like us on Facebook, but to leave a comment on the post to increase interaction.

We got over 1000 entries for that giveaway and gained over 1600 new fans.

One of the problems of organizing giveaways like this is that you gain audience that are not really into your product or service. Luckily, our attrition rate after organizing such giveaways has been minimal, as our target is women followers who genuinely like our site and the daily craft ideas that we provide.

Lately, Facebook traffic has been surpassed in leaps and bounds by Pinterest. However, with the legal challenges facing Pinterest, we are approaching this cautiously. Besides, Pinterest doesn’t encourage user participation in the way Facebook does. YMMV.

Appearing bigger than we were

This was always an ethical issue. We approached many suppliers, artists and publishing houses with offers of great reviews for their products, artwork and books in exchange for them sending us details of their wares before anyone else. We did this by pretending to be bigger than we were (at that time).

This worked in probably 4 attempts out of 10. But each attempt, even failed ones, brought us closer to being in the good books of these people because the 4 genuine creative works and products that we featured made us look legitimate and big in front of the 6 who had refused to send us their products.

One classic example was the use of LinkedIn to approach an industry leader for product samples and giveaway of their flagship product. This was audacious because we were a “nobody”, and we were trying to use a dubious connection to request that resource. We had almost given up on that channel working out till eventually, we received a positive reply. The use of LinkedIn helped as it seemed a legitimate request via a trusted source.

Most readers will want to trust you, if they think you are big enough. We mostly find and write about great ideas and inspirations in our vertical and we proudly display the number of people who already trust us via our Facebook, Twitter and Newsletter count. “Hey, if CraftGossip is a great source of daily ideas for 25,000+ other Facebook fans, then it is good enough for me too.”

Whenever we approach new sources, we proudly declare what we have already done for other similar sources in the past.

Giveaways – how we have used them to gain audience

I mentioned hosting a giveaway earlier. Hosting giveaways was one of the biggest ways we gained new audiences and kept bringing them back for more. In the process, we retained audiences that were genuinely interested in our content and therefore, decided to stick around.

The strategy we used was to request a review product or sample from a manufacturer and then to propose to them that either the editor reviewing the product offer up her product sample for a giveaway at the end of her review, or the manufacturer send the winner the prize directly. 9 times out of 10, the manufacturer agrees to send the prize directly, which saves our editors time and (company) money.

Tying up the giveaway along with the social media channels helps. We recently hosted a KitchenAid Mixer giveaway on our edible crafts blog that drew nearly 4000 entries. In part, it was due to the popularity of this mixer, but more importantly, it was because KitchenAid agreed to post the giveaway on their own Facebook page, which had a much more substantial following than overs. During the days we hosted the giveaway, we saw a 100% increase in the daily Facebook likes, and around 75% increase in engagement. It ties in neatly with the other ideas I have presented earlier – social media engagement + appearing bigger than we were.

Always make sure that the giveaway prize that you pick is easy for you to fulfil. There is nothing worse than a disgruntled winner.

In conclusion

These are some of the main ideas that have helped us to get to where we are today. We are a niche vertical blog network, and we have found our happy place. We found passionate and dedicated editors who write about new and creative ideas in their fields, we give our readers what they want and we get advertisers to pay us so we can continue to be profitable. This is no magical formula and we believe anyone can create the same within their own vertical.

[image via flickr/Amit Chattopadhyay]

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"Mobile payments" is about as unsexy as technology buzzwords get. We're basically talking about phones and money. And it's hard enough to get people excited about money in the first place—unless you're receiving large sums of it, that is—let alone using a phone to make or spend it.

But it is exciting! Trust us. And there's a reason why you're going to be hearing a lot more about mobile commerce before this year is done.

Read the rest of this article...

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At GDC Online, Atari co- founder Nolan Bushnell discussed opportunities for new storytelling forms in gaming's near future -- and what he learned from writing his own science fiction novel this year.

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Roppongi Hills 2, 2005Adrift in the city of superflatBy Marc Feustel, Originally published in FOAM Magazine, brought to ASX by FOAMDuring the extraordinarily turbulent and dynamic post-war period , Tokyo became a great photographic city: a city with a distinctive, immediately recognizable photographic aesthetic. Just as Paris’s visual identity became intrinsically linked to the humanist

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