Is Social Media Better at Getting You Fired, or Hired?

Khristopher J Brooks on Tumblr In what may be a record for journalists getting fired for their social media activities,Khristopher Brooks was sacked yesterday before he even started his job with the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. What was his offense? Writing on his blog about getting the job, and using the newspaper’s logo and quoting from the offer letter without permission.

Brooks played a small role in a post I wrote earlier today on the New-Media Survival Guide website suggesting that journalists should write a Firing Manifesto. The idea, basically, is to know when you should choose between saving your job and saving your career.

Though he didn’t have any say in it, getting fired may turn out to have been a positive development for Brooks’s career. In a piece in the Huffington Post, which I read after posting my article, he reports that in the aftermath, he’s received a number of job offers and other opportunities. We won’t know for a while, but it seems social media has done his career more good than harm.

Blog Comments: Chaos or Currency?

Are comments more trouble than they are literally worth? According to Animal’s Joel Johnson, the answer is a resounding Yes.

I believe I’m right, and I think it’s important to start the discussion. And my theory is very easy to disprove: just run your own analysis on your traffic and determine exactly how many people are scrolling down the page to read comments. Then figure out how much you’re spending to maintain comment communities that are civil, vibrant, and not an embarassment sitting just below your own work. I bet once you run all the numbers, you’d discover you’d be saving money simply by not having comments at all. (You’d probably save a bundle on therapy for authors alone.)

Johnson’s objections to comments are many. First, he says, most of them are worthless. Only 1 or 2 in 100 “actually provoke discussion or elucidate another’s argument,” he argues.

Next, he says, comments don’t make any money. (But then what does for most bloggers? Please let me know.)

Moreover, commenters are often rude to authors. Comments, he says, are a dinner party, and “if I’ve invited you to have a seat at my table, at least have the courtesy to not call me an idiot for serving you food slightly different than you preferred.”

Finally, and most damningly, almost no one actually reads the comments.

I’m sure all this is true for high-traffic, commercial blogs. But I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of blogs, the problems Johnson and others experience at mainstream, consumer oriented blogs like Animal simply don’t exist.

One reason, of course, is that most blogs, like mine, alas, don’t get many comments to begin with (other than the spammy variety that Akismet so silently and effectively filters out).

But some are so clearly and consistently focused on a single community interest that they generate with almost every post a huge number of intelligent, interesting, and polite comments. For some of my favorite blogs, in fact, the comments are at least as good as the original post, and often better.

Though I haven’t asked them, I’d guess that Steve Buttry, Mark Schaefer, Mitch Joel, Porter Anderson, and others too numerous to mention here don’t just tolerate their comments, but live for them. Certainly the comments they approve and respond to all reflect a genuine and productive engagement with the topic.

In addition to a carefully targeted focus, there are probably a couple of other reasons these bloggers get such a wealth of thoughtful and useful comments.

First, they are all personal. These bloggers are heavily invested in their blogs, and take the responsibility for every word that appears in them.

Second, they are all genuinely good, thoughtful, and generous people. They attract like personalities that come to enhance the discussion, not to degrade it.

So, yes, if your aim as a blogger is first and foremost to make money, you may want to disable commenting. For the rest of us, though, comments, not cash, are the currency we seek.

The Tyranny of Images: Why Instagram and Pinterest Worry Me

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this blog post. Which in this case, oddly, is precisely the point.

Today’s news that the mobile photo-sharing platform Instagram has been acquired by Facebook for $1 billion underscores a trend that’s been gnawing at me for the last few months. Mark Zuckerberg clearly understands that images are an increasingly important element in social discourse. So do the founders of the visually oriented Pinterest, which in less than a year has leapt from obscurity to become the third most popular social network on the web.

Why should this worry me? I’m a reasonably visual guy. I’ve been a serious photographer since my childhood, and my years as a magazine editor taught me the importance of balancing words with images.

I guess I fear that the emphasis now being given to the visual is upsetting that balance.  Increasingly, words alone are seen as inadequate or insufficiently appealing. As Joel Friedlander says, explaining why he plunks a large photo into the top of every post on his blog, “it’s a given: blog articles attract more interest with photographs and other images.” Pinterest only intensifies this need for images. In fact, as Tony Hallet pointed out last month, if a blog post has no images, it essentially doesn’t exist in Pinterest’s eyes.

Knowing this, any blogger that wants to be read will find an image to go with the words. That’s great when an image enhances or reinforces the meaning of the words. But all too often it doesn’t. Finding a picture that explains an abstract concept is difficult, especially if you limit yourself to images you have a clear-cut right to use. As a result, bloggers frequently face this choice: go without an image, or settle for one that looks good but has little to do with your topic.  Increasingly, they will have no reasonable option but the latter. It’s the tyranny of the image.

I agree, as Tony Hallet says, that “it’s arguably the photographer, the illustrator, the graphic designer, maybe even the infographic creator who will hold the key to much of what lies ahead.” It’s another question, though, whether the key opens the right door.

Is Rex Hammock the Groucho Marx of New Media?

In his autobiography, The Last Laugh, S. J. Perelman recalls that his first book included the following blurb from Groucho Marx:

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down,  I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

Perelman doesn’t say how he felt about it, but given his admiration of the Marx Brothers, he was surely delighted.

I feel the same way about Rex Hammock’s blog post last week declaring my book, the New-Media Survival Guide, to be “awesome and a must read.” Does it worry me that his praise was preceded by the cheerful admission that, other than the two pages about him, he hadn’t read any of it?

Not at all. It’s classic Rex: funny, generous, and honest. It underscores my reason for featuring him in the book: if you want to understand new media, his blog posts and tweets are required reading.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bill Hudgins for suggesting the photo.

An Infographic on the Right Track: Grad School to Google

Though I was once a big fan of infographics, my ardor has cooled of late. Too many of the examples I see just look like clones of each other. But now and then I run across an infographic that is distinctly different, and worth sharing.

Case in point: this interactive graphic from OnlinePhD.org, which steps you through Google’s growth year by year (thanks to Google Tutor for the lead.) The drawing is not outstanding, but the interactivity and engagement are.

Created by Online PhD

Where I think this infographic is on the right track is in suiting itself to the computer. Most other infographics I see are like huge wall posters that you must enlarge and scan up and down to read easily. This one instead lets you click through to a new panel of information. Much friendlier.

I’ve attempted a bit of research on the genesis of this infographic and how it was built, but have come up empty-handed. If you know something more about it, why not share it in the comments?