48 Hours Later…

February 18, 2018 10:28pm
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Where did this weekend even go???

Deplorable Discussions
As one might expect, I’ve had a lot of discussions about mass shootings the last couple of days. A couple of them have been insightful, but most … have not … which I think has only built upon my anger because it truly is deplorable to spend the time immediately after a mass shooting that took the lives of 14 students and 3 teachers debating the semantics of what makes a mass shooting” or this notion that “there’s no such thing as an assault rifle.”

If anything, it’s really driven home the fact that as much as even I’m willing to consider that many factors are at work with these terrible acts, at the end of the day it’s ALWAYS been about guns, and the right just doesn’t want to talk about that.

The T-Shirt Idea
So the other day – I think right after the shooting took place, I left a comment on a friend’s post in the vein of “Fuck Your Feelings” … no, Fuck Your Guns! in parody of those smug Trump supporters who wore shirts saying as much at rallies back in 2016. At the time I joked that it would make for a great t-shirt, but left it at that until Saturday morning came around and another barrage of tasteless comments got me just fired up enough to actually realize that I had all of the tools to put something together in fairly short order…

I don’t know if I honestly expected to sell any versus it just being a funny jab at Trump supporters, but it was admittedly exciting when an actual order popped up for one after a Facebook page that was seeing a lot of attention that night themselves was kind enough to share a link to their 1,000+ followers when I asked!

As I watched the pageviews shoot up faster in 45 minutes than they had all afternoon, that’s when I started to think that maybe this could be something bigger.

Social Media Frustrations
Like I mentioned the other day in an earlier post, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how to make social media work for my creative projects. It always seems like you need followers to get visibility, but you also need visibility to get followers, and I’ve just never been able to figure out how to bridge that gap.

I was kind of hoping that maybe this idea would be a better social media fit because it’s punchy and controversial, as well as very timely now with so much discussion around gun control and how to move forward.

Pretty late into the night, I finally decided that if this idea did have potential, I needed a better presentation, so I started working on a single page website that features an essay of about 900 words to collect all of the thoughts that I’ve had around what we as a people need to do, also highlighting some of my biggest frustrations with the anti-gun control crowd.

That website can now be found at fuckyourguns.org.

You Can’t Beg People to Retweet You
I literally stayed up all night to finish the site – I think I finally went to bed somewhere around 7:30am, but for what it’s worth, I’m super proud of how it turned out.

My main goals were to A) focus on statistics, and B) make it personal, and I think I did both of those quite well.

I wanted the text to be a clear jab at the extreme gun advocates, but still convey that it doesn’t have to be that way … they just need to be willing to come to the table for an honest and open conversation, too.

After watching the success of the first share on Facebook, I figured that if I could get just one person with a mid-sized following to share a link to the site, I’d be golden! So I put together a list of people who I followed in other avenues – several comedians and a few other liberal activist types, and I sent them a simple tweet asking if they could help signal boost just like I had with the first guy on Facebook.

Mind you, I was super super nervous doing this because I know it’s not always smiled upon, but I hoped that I’d have just the right message to catch their attention in a positive way. Plus, I knew that they’d all been commenting about gun control over the weekend, so the request was on point. I was ready to wake up a few hours later and just have my mind blown when I pulled up the stats and sales!

SPOILER: Nothing happened.

Social Media Roller Coaster
All I could think about was how cool it would be to have a $50,000 check to hand over to a non-profit in support of gun control, or even $150,000! It really wouldn’t even require that many shirts sold, and damn if they wouldn’t make a powerful statement filling a protesting crowd with a sea of royal blue.

Though admittedly I’m not sure how the media would cover it without having to literally censor every single shirt!

This is actually a great example of why social media just drives me bonkers because just one taste – even a small one – and you know that the potential is there, if only you can figure out how to tap into it!

That said, there are a lot of nuances to remember … sharing and growth are meant to happen organically, not by you sending a tweet from a new account begging for a RT!, and sites like Reddit super frown on users posting their own links. I learned this the hard way once because I had some blog posts that I really wanted to share … got a ridiculous number of pageviews, but also my share of negative comments about not following the rules.

And that’s what makes it tough about social media – to know that there’s this giant firehose of users waiting to click links, but it takes a lot more effort than just passing by and wanting some in order to get any.

A Dwindling, New Hope
So I honestly don’t know what to expect and/or hope for anymore. I’d still love to see this take off and generate a bunch of money for charity because I really believe in the cause, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen and I really worry – both for this project and the cause in general – that a week from now gun control won’t even be a blip on the radar anymore because our shitty, short attention span news cycle will have moved on to a dozen other issues by then.

In the meantime, I did create a Twitter account specifically for the project and took some time this afternoon to follow a few dozen people talking about gun control, liking and retweeting and commenting on other tweets in between sharing a few quotes from my own piece. Still, I haven’t really seen any activity at all in return – not even so much as a single follow. 🙁

In retrospect, I do wonder if I might’ve inadvertently shot myself in the foot – pardon the expression – by using the word FUCK because I’m curious if Twitter’s ranking algorithm either filters content with “adult language” further down in one’s news feed or even just keeps it hidden altogether!

I was already reminded that Facebook doesn’t allow FUCK in its advertising because I tried to create a quick $10 campaign to try and drum up a little attention, only to have it quickly declined due to vulgar language.

Funny how Facebook seems to be a-ok with circulating political propaganda from Russian bots to sew discourse with American users prior to our election, yet the word FUCK is over the line. 😯

Fin
So that’s where we are as of late – I suppose the upsides are that while I haven’t sold a lot of my vulgar, gun control t-shirts, I have sold a few and it’s kind of neat to think about them being worn out in the public or at one of the upcoming protests!

I’ve also probably written more in the last four days than I have in the last two months, so there’s that.

Plus, I still have a couple of things I want to work on before I go to bed earlier than 7:30am tonight, so I suppose I should wrap this up. One is even a new humor piece for Just Laugh that I want to run tomorrow … I don’t even want to look at the last time I posted on that site!

I’ll give you one guess as to what the topic is going to be about… 😉

Creative Brain Drain

February 16, 2018 10:56pm
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I haven’t really written much for the last couple of months.

Part of it has been between work and the holidays and money issues and parenting stress and about a billion other things, my brain just hasn’t had much bandwidth left to be creative with at the end of the day.

Another part is that – I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it a proper crisis of faith – but I’ve been kind of demoralized about writing and publishing online, and even now I’m not quite sure what to make of it…

It’s weird because whereas 20 or so years ago when I started doing all of this, I looked at the Internet as freeing because I could publish things online that would never be accepted by a print publisher. But now the landscape has become more mature, and I don’t necessarily think that my issue is that there are a ton more people publishing online than ever before – which does make it tougher to fight for an audience, but moreso it feels like social media has become overtly cumbersome to the point where it’s no longer this helpful tool to boost your signal and connect with your audience, but instead this weird ecosystem of its own that commands its own rules and yet doesn’t really pay back creators likewise for their efforts whatsoever.

This article about Funny or Die laying off its editorial staff because of Facebook speaks a lot of greater truths that over the years I’ve observed firsthand with my own creative projects because it seems like what started out as these neat social networks gradually evolved into their own walled gardens where traffic doesn’t really flow away from Facebook and the likes.

It used to be that you’d write something, post it to your website, and then share it on social media and your fans would click through and check it out…

But instead today when you share a link on Facebook, it reaches a very small subset of your fans and Facebook generously encourages you to boost your post by paying them an advertising fee! Which would be fine if that then in turn increased your clickthrough rate, but instead today most Facebook interactions stay squarely on Facebook, so instead of reading an article and absorbing a few ad views, now a fan might only read your headline or blurb on Facebook, Like it, and engage in a comment war right there on Facebook without ever even visiting your site or actually reading what you wrote in the first place.

Worse yet, you lean more towards creating content specifically for Facebook through albums and memes and embedded videos and your Facebook page looks awesome, but at the end of the day it’s a giant time suck that doesn’t attract any new readers to your actual work or improve your ad revenue in any conceivable way.

Oh yeah, and there’s also scammers and fake accounts and clickbait posts that compete with yours for views that drive up advertising costs and crash otherwise diminishing returns even further into the ground!

On top of all of this, I have other issues with the Internet that have made it a less desirable frontier than it once was…

  • Misleading clickbait Taboola ads on even some of the most otherwise legitimate sites
  • Less interest in the written word in favor of video, memes, throwaway content
  • Clickbait content in general overshadowing actual creative effort (e.g. sometimes it’s hard to even watch movie trailers on YouTube anymore because people will create fake trailers labeled as official that get millions of views when the movie isn’t even in the works)

At the end of the day, I still want to write things that can make people laugh and make people think … I’m just not sure how that works online in 2018 anymore?

In the past I’ve never had a HUGE audience, but most of the time it was respectable, and maybe I had a project here or there that was admittedly more for me because it didn’t really take off, but when everything that I’ve just described all balls up together and it feels like nothing is getting any traction anymore, I suppose it’s admittedly kind of depressing and eventually it leads you to wonder if maybe there are other things that would be a better use of your time.

…particularly right now when finding “free time” to write is often such a struggle as it is… 🙁

So that’s where I am right now.

Yesterday I wrote probably my first piece in a good while – something about the perpetual cycle of inaction that we seem to see after our mass shootings here in America – and I was honestly pretty happy about how it had turned out, but then I let some early criticism from someone close get to me and it sort of took away most of the energy that I’d built up after finally posting something new for the first time in ages! :<

I know that I desperately need this creative outlet in my life. It helps to keep me sane and happy and organize the thoughts in my head, but I’m really struggling in a way that I’ve never quite felt before and I’m not entirely sure how to move forward from here.

Toying with Contently

October 25, 2017 5:30pm
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For the longest time, I’ve been in search of a really good hub website to showcase all of the various things that I write. I ended up making one myself because I just never found anything that I liked – you can see it on the front page of this site – but it’s still not perfect.

My ideal option would be a WordPress theme that I can plug RSS feeds from all of my other sites into, and then it would aggregate everything that I write from everywhere all into one nice and pretty news feed.

A layout similar to what Pinterest looks like would be ideal, which is why I was kind of curious when I saw Contently mentioned on social media the other day, so I decided to check it out. The site is actually designed to host a portfolio for freelancers, so the display itself is very cool. The part I’m not crazy about is that it’s entirely manual because it’s meant to be a curated portfolio, so I had to enter URLs for every single article listed, as well as tweak the excerpts because it just grabbed the first X characters of each post…

I still like it from the perspective of creating a portfolio of my favorite work, so I took a few hours to scour all of my recent projects to find 30 – 40 pieces to fill it. And it was neat that I could include my books in it as well, although it kind of stands out that the site is designed for people working for mainstream sites because all of those boring, text file shapes at the top of my profile are supposed to be much larger “As seen in…” logos if I had work for any bigger sites like The New York Times or The Huffington Post.

I’m kind of surprised that they don’t grab a site’s favicon if it isn’t already a preferred outlet – would make for a nicer presentation…

I honestly don’t know if I’ll do anything else with it just because there’s not really much else to do, but if you’re looking for something to read, right now I think it’s a solid collection of some of my own personal favorites that you might enjoy reading as well!

(Tip of the hat to Sara Benincasa whose post on Facebook about her own portfolio pointed me to Contently in the first place…)

For years and years, my blog here on scottsevener.com was a mirror image of the blogging that I started over at LiveJournal – at least from 2003 – 2011, anyways, until I moved over here and stopped blogging over there. But still, 14 years of blogging always seemed like an impressive archive of the non-formatted writing that I’ve done over the years…

…until now!

Because do you want to know what’s even more impressive than 14 years of blogging?

How about 15 years of blogging?!?!?!

After I wrote my post last week reminiscing about my first adventures of Internetting a la Grex, I got to thinking that even though I technically started blogging on LiveJournal in the spring of 2003 … there was actually some “blogging” that I also did on comedic-genius.com way back when that was the only domain I had other than Just Laugh!

Thankfully I’m a bit of a digital packrat, so I was able to find the old PHP files that made up the original comedic-genius.com that served as the same sort of hub site for my online work that this one does now. But it was sooooo much more grueling because long before the days of adopting WordPress, I created my sites the hard way by coding directly in Notepad – a combination of HTML and PHP in all, with every formatting tag and line break typed by hand instead of this fancy WYSIWYG-editor that is a staple in every major CMS today! 😯

From what I can tell, I did use some sort of blogging software called Fusion PHP … according to the comment tags, anyways … but it was barely a CMS in that I still typed everything by hand and posts were just stored one after another in PHP files as they appeared on the page.

So anyways – I just finished copying the last of 23 new blog posts from 2002 into this site because, err, why not?!

I can’t really vouch for their readability or entertainment value … they’re mostly a mixture of updates about whatever columns I had just finished writing and random life happenings … so I’ll leave that up to you to judge the worth of a 22-year-old’s late night ramblings! 😛

Still, you know me – I think it’s neat to have this kind of stuff to look back at from time to time over the years, and so here are another 11,000 words to add to the pile when reflection time is upon me once again.

By the way – just for reference, I tried to update links wherever I could because all of the humor columns are still available today as well as some of the Just Laugh features, but others never/haven’t yet made it into the latest version so don’t be surprised if a few links here and there appear to be dead-ends.

For what it’s worth, I still think my linking history success rate is probably considerably better than most sites linking back to content from fifteen years ago! 😀

Blogging Can Be Anything!

April 22, 2017 12:24am
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I’ve been blogging a bit more lately, I think because in general I’ve been writing a lot more lately, too.

In a way, I feel like I’m starting to grow a newfound appreciation for blogging because it serves as such a good complement to the other things that I write. Looking across the other writing projects that I currently have, whether it’s my humor column or my editorials or Disney writing or even my latest idea that I’m getting ready to launch soon, all of them have an overarching structure that determines what I’m going to write about.

And I guess that’s kind of the odd beauty about blogging because it gives me a place to write anything else that happens to be on my mind – from movie reviews to reflections on my life, weird dreams that I’ve had and even relationship advice! You could say that my blog has become that spiral journal you keep under your mattress to write in whenever you feel the urge, and it’s nice to have a place where I can brain dump from time to time some of these ideas that may not necessarily be enough to go into a full column or article or humor piece about, but it’s still interesting/goofy/fun/weird/WHATEVER to me and I want to get it down on digital paper anyways.

One of my dreams particularly for this blog has always been to see it turn into something a little more prominent, maybe like Scalzi’s blog or one of these other big names in blogging who are known for something else, but also write a really intriguing blog that their readers follow and enjoy as well, so in the back of my mind I’m secretly hoping that simply just writing more and more and more could be a gateway to unlocking that kind of interest.

But it starts with simply enjoying the writing for yourself, and I also feel myself sliding back into that role once again, so either way I think we’re doing pretty good. 😉

I just discovered Kat Blaque’s YouTube channel the other day and I’ve been slowly browsing through her videos because she seems to have a lot of calm and rational, well thought out things to say that I really admire, but this one in particular really hit home for me today because it’s been a particular frustration of mine as of late and honestly I’ve had other people tell me bits and pieces of this advice – all of which that are really worth taking to heart if you’re trying to make a career out of creating content online.

Here are some of the highlights…

  • “Comment sections tend to be a massive time suck that often result in fighting with total strangers and resolving absolutely nothing!”
  • “You are not required to comment, respond to a comment, or even see the comment section.”
  • “Sometimes I think that we believe that the only thing that’s missing from this piece of content is our voice.”

I think my favorite point, though, is where she talks about constructive arguments in comments that would make for great standalone videos (or blog posts, or whatever) because this is a perspective that I’m trying to subscribe to myself that I first picked up from some random blog long ago that unfortunately I can’t remember. The author had turned comments off on his site, but also included a section below each post that specifically said something like – “If you have comments or opinions as a result of reading my post, I invite you to expand on them by making a blog post of your own.”

I love this just because while he’s not dismissing reader opinions as not mattering, he also made it clear that he wasn’t giving the option for each reader to leave them front and center on his doorstep and he also encouraged that more productive, thought out debate that we’d all like to see by saying, “Go put some of your own effort into it and make a proper rebuttal like I did!”

Comments are not content, and I’m looking forward to watching what else Kat Blaque has to say because it seems like she actually puts some real time and effort into the things that she posts online. 🙂

A Reason for Garbage Comments

July 9, 2016 5:28pm
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I have a theory about why social media sites like Facebook garner such terrible discussion in their comment sections based on something that I’ve observed from some of my own writing that I’ve published recently.

I’d love to see some actual statistics on how many users actually click through links on Facebook vs how many leave comments because when I compare the pageviews that I’m seeing on some of my more “lively” posts, the numbers aren’t even close! I suppose it doesn’t really surprise me, though it’s disappointing in a way to think that so much of social media commentary is reactions and agendas pushed solely on reading the headlines and not actually delving into the content that myself or another writer took the time to put down on the page…

It’s a relatively new phenomena with digital media because it’s not like print or television or radio really give their viewers the opportunity to only consume the lead without also hearing the actual story. I mean, you could turn the TV off or only read the front page headlines and then walk away to go about your typical, everyday rants, but social media is really the first platform to give that live commenting option where readers have an up front venue where they can speak his mind without actually considering his source material whatsoever.

Does that need to change?

I eluded to some of my greater concerns about Internet comments in my Thing-a-Day post yesterday with why I specifically don’t allow comments on many of my own websites, but what if sites like Facebook took an extra step to lock down the comment box until a user at least clicked on the link that the comments referred to?

It wouldn’t be a perfect solution because you could easily get around it by instinctively clicking the link and then immediately closing it, but the majority of users probably aren’t likely to do that anyways.

Then again, you’d have to look at the stats to see if it’s even the majority of users who comment without reading or if it’s really just an issue with that increasingly vocal minority that’s likely to cause headaches no matter what type of restrictions you opt to put in place.

Death of a Newspaper

May 3, 2016 6:29pm
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It was a little sad, but honestly not at all surprising to read today that one of our two local papers – The Tampa Tribune – is closing up shop, as it was just acquired by its competition.

I’d link to the video by their CEO “announcing” this exciting change, but even ironically it’s a painfully stale video to watch … one of those pieces of evidence that will surface 50 years from now and make people think, “Wow, so your print journalism was still alive back when this guy was somehow a part of it?!”

Anyways, I was just thinking about how when I first moved to Florida … or technically even before I moved here, I was an avid reader of The Tampa Tribune. As soon as I got here, I signed up for a full subscriber to kind of soak in the locality as much as possible, but I think a good year prior to that I actually would get their Sunday editions mailed to me at home up in Michigan! They would arrive about a week late and I would use them mostly for scoping out jobs and apartments, but also just in general to sort of fantasize about this far off land that I dreamed of moving to eventually one day…

Hell, I think I actually even applied for a few jobs with the Tribune over the years, but clearly those never got too far! 😯

I guess I stopped reading the Tribune probably 5-6 years ago when it became more common to have a stack of papers sitting in the corner that I had to make a conscious effort to flip through before throwing them in the recycling bin. Slowly there became less and less that they had to say that I hadn’t already read in one form or another online, plus computers have always had this nice way of not turning your thumbs black while you’re reading them, and so eventually I just canceled my subscription altogether and really just never looked back.

The state of journalism itself these days kind of has me torn because although some publishers have done ok or better at embracing digital media, most of the big guys like the Tribune and the Times have not and as a result it’s left a bit of a hole in the news that needs to be filled one way or another. In some cases we’re seeing TV stations and even radio branch onto online to snag in those readers, but they still ultimately have the same issues that print ran into – finding a way to financially support their efforts without either selling out to special interests or else just putting entertainment first and making it hard to take them seriously when it comes down to real news.

And of course, the web and social media have made it easier than ever for groups and organizations themselves to share their own news, so I suppose that some of the playing field left behind is still covered by them, but then there’s always the conundrum of honesty vs. being self-serving, too…

Personally I’d think what I’d like to see is some new local news organizations popping up to take the place of these corporate behemoths who can no longer seem to make a profit in the space. The Internet being a super cheap replacement for the classic printing press and technology in general continuing to rival that which goes into professional productions, there’s no reason that a small team of passionate journalists couldn’t get together and create their own local media company to cover the same types of things that these newspapers used to cover. Unless their plan is to strictly target senior citizen communities, newspapers aren’t going to make a comeback – at least not with any generation who can operate an iPad without having to call their grandkids for tech support – so the barriers for entry in this new age world of journalism are really lower than ever.

Because we need local coverage in our daily lives to talk about the things that didn’t happen around the country in New York or Los Angeles. And a media company for a mid-sized metropolitan area like the Tampa Bay region may not be able to support the 250+ employees that the Tribune was said to have had prior to today’s announcement, but 20-30% of that including a decent, local sales team? It seems like it should be very doable, and it would be a great asset to a community that continues to grow despite its conglomerate-owned media giants flailing for relevancy because they simply don’t know how to do business in a world where most readers don’t care about print and won’t pay for an online subscription.

Mind you, *I* certainly have no desire to take on that challenge myself, but for our local journalists who are really passionate about the thing that they do – you’ve probably got better odds trying your own thing than you do vying for a spot at the paper.

Over the weekend I’ve spent some time rethinking productivity and trying to reassess the different things that I want to be writing because truth be told, I’m really not writing as much as I would like to be right now.

And while it’s too soon to say for certain, the hunch that I’m riding on at the moment is that realistically I could be getting a lot more done by curbing the procrastination and a good chunk of the time that I waste griping about things on social media because if you were to really take me to task over how I’d like to be able to look back at my time, which do you honestly think that I’d rather be able to boast – a portfolio of great writing over all of these subjects that I’m passionate about, or having posted some really great zingers arguing with my Republican friends (and even complete strangers) on social media?!

I really want to try to refocus on creating and leave the petty bitching for those other people online who don’t create.

So going back over my repertoire, I’ve already tried to post a thing or two this weekend on Just Laugh, and eventually my rarely weekly humor column should stumble back into that fold, too.

I’ve also got this really swell Thing-a-Day project that I haven’t blogged about here or linked to just yet, but I’ve really been enjoying that because it sort of forces me to write at least something every single day!

So the question from here is … what else???

Though I’ve had fun with the editorials that I’ve been occasionally writing, I really want to keep them a limited engagement for topics that I find myself motivated to write more serious and in depth about, as opposed to it becoming a regular feature where I have to actively hunt for stuff to comment on every single week.

The one that I keep circling back to is Disney World, although at this point I admittedly have conflicting thoughts about it…

  • Pros:
    • love Walt Disney World.
    • I always find myself overwhelmed with things I could write about whenever I’m there.
  • Cons:
    • It’s a great place to unwind for me and I’d hate to interfere with that by adding deadlines, scheduling, etc…
    • I’ve tried a few different ideas in the past and none have really caught on … humor, reviews, general commentary.
    • There’s always the possibility of hurting my other projects by further segmenting my time instead of really focusing on one or two things.

But then again, it could just be that I haven’t found my beat with regards to writing about Disney World yet and I really do feel like there’s a project in there somewhere that could be a whole lot of fun, so maybe I just need to put a little more time into it and really think about some of the things I’d like to read about that I can address in a unique way, and also don’t require twice-weekly, rigorous trips to the World and/or reposting the same park updates and press releases that a lot of other WDW bloggers already do today!

Who knows – maybe it even involves dumping MyTimeWithTheMouse.com and trying an entirely different approach using a nice, simple (and already done!) WordPress theme that I don’t have to spend a year custom coding to get exactly the way I want, only to later become horrendously outdated until I just want to scrap the whole thing and try something else a few years later!

This is clearly going to require some thought, so in the meantime – here are a few fun pics from recent trips this year that will hopefully serve to motivate me, and I guess you can feel free to enjoy ’em if you’d like, too… 😉

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Motivation

February 23, 2016 5:36pm
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