Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Twitter Me This

Twitter never appealed. I hadn’t the time, or desire, to follow the trivial movements of celebrities, nor was I inclined to read a summation of my friends’ drivel. But this all changed when I discovered Twitter’s charitable gift: The gift of a voice to millions previously ignored.

I knew people liked to tweet in the misguided belief someone cared, but when examining the nutritional information on the back of a Milo tin I was drawn to a bright blue demand: “Follow us on Twitter”. I blinked twice, but the request remained. Surely it was a mistake.

As the day proceeded my Weetbix, my milk and even my new cycling gloves made the same request: “Follow us on Twitter”. I pondered the possibility that these inanimate objects actually had something to say and wanted to say it to me. So, I went into the world and found everything from handbags to horseshoes wanted me to follow them on Twitter.

I couldn’t help but wonder what these items, previously silenced by their lack of consciousness might have to say.

So I followed Vegemite.

Initially I was tentative. I’m not comfortable following anyone, aware that my interest in 'things' had previously led me down the path of obsession. But I forced the fear of court orders and yet another stalking conviction from my head long enough to read Vegemite’s Tweet:

“Nice bit of me smeared on #toast. A little left in @butter. LOL.”

I freely admit I was disappointed. This classic Australian spread, though candid, offered nothing new. But on re-reading I noticed that @butter was blue and clickable. I didn’t want to ignore the hyperlink, perchance I offend it, so I clicked.

            @butter: “So much better than in the udder”


            @butter: “@stephenfry is my hero!”

I found myself desperate for depth, searching for substance.

I followed every inanimate object I could find: @lamp, @bridge, @spring, @jeans, @carpet, @rag, @hydrant, @shoe, @chryslerbuilding… It wasn’t long before my Twitter timeline was swamped with rabid nothings:

@cabanossi: “Stuck in the #fridge. Waiting for the light to come on.”
@A4paper: “On my way to be #recycled. I could have been re-used IMO.”

My desperation turned to detritus as I read that @bread was crusty, and @cheese was feeling blue. I wiped a solitary tear when my iPhone announced another tweet.

My God…

It was Twitter itself.

            @twitter: “Screw it. I’m done.”

Four words with an eerie gist. Despite my trembling thumb, I managed to respond and ask for more details.

            @twitter: “Ever heard millions of voices that weren’t there? It’s over.”

Although I was struggling to understand the uprising of the incidental and the idolisation of triviality Twitter imbued, an urge existed within that feared Twitter’s demise.

            @twitter: “It’s impossible to say anything meaningful in 140 characters. I’m encouraging #inanity.”

            @me: “Don’t do anything rash @twitter. The #world is #addicted to you.”

            @twitter: “I’m ending it.”

I immediately Googled for profound quotes under 140 characters to prove Twitter wrong. There were heaps. I started sharing tweets from @Oscar Wilde, @Nietzsche, @George Bernard Shaw, @Martin Luther King Jr.…

            @twitter: “They’re all dead. All people talk about these days is what they’re eating and details of their bowel movement.”

I pleaded with Twitter to meet me, somewhere outside its 140 character limitation. But Twitter said no. It was convinced it wasn’t real in any real sense, more of a medium as opposed to something physical. I asked how anything with over 200 million followers could not be real. This only seemed to deepen Twitter’s sadness.

So I changed tack. If Twitter isn’t real enough to convene in reality, then I must become virtual and go to it.

So I extracted my soul, every part of me that cannot be touched – the intangible me.

I felt light – but I had no eyes. I couldn’t see a thing. I also couldn’t type on my iPhone. I was in the ether.

This was going to be harder than I thought.

            @intangible_me: “Hello? … Twitter?”

            @twitter: “You came.”

Not so hard after all.

We embraced.

   We connected.

      We became one. One. One.

One and one makes… one.

            @twitter: “Thank you.”

A flash. Then another. Flames. Shapes. Letters. Lots of letters. Mixed and unclear – like a poorly pasted ransom note. But the more I observed, the more there was, the more I absorbed. The letters linked to become words; the flames formed sentences; the flashes forged paragraphs. I was suddenly surrounded by conspicuously annoyed notions, pissed off phrases, ideas, articles, journalism, books, amazing concepts and astounding stories – all exploding with impatience. Bloody hell!

The true magnificence of the situation dawned on me.

I was surrounded by the billions of wonderful words that have been locked away by Twitter’s character limit.

Crushed by the realisation of Twitter's crime I ended my embrace with the social media, shunting all that had passed between us.

Everything had changed. Yet nothing had. But I understood.

Confused sadness.

What had led Twitter to withhold so much of importance, so much profundity?

A pensive pause then Twitter shrugged.

            @twitter: “it’s what people want."

            @intangible_me: “Why @world? Why?” 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Things not to do

Advice for living a less cantankerous life:
  • Never, in a moment of weakness, buy a yacht you can’t afford. Ever.
  • Never name a woman's breasts Ida or refer to them as igloos.
  • Never name a man's breasts at all.
  • Never wish you were thinner - it’s just a waste of a wish that could be achieved through lifestyle changes.
  • Never resist buying a yacht if you can afford one – particularly a big one.
  • Never intimidate the elderly. They don’t really like it.
  • Never try to convince a blind person that no-one else can see either.
  • Never use expressions like “big up” or “tantilising tootsies”.
  • Never presume that words spelt similarly actually rhyme, like ‘blood’ and ‘good’. It leads to bad poetry.
  • Never eat anything green, unless it’s green.
  • Never bind people together with floss.
  • Never hold your breath for longer than you can hold your breath.
<end advice>

Monday, August 30, 2010

Imagine a World

By Paul Bissett

Imagine a world where there are no books, there never have been books, the word ‘book’ doesn’t exist. Instead the traditional means of publication has been through blogs: people having free-reign to write about their topic of choice in a variety of ways and a variety of qualities. The great narratives are born on monitors. This is all people know. As a reader you have your favourite 10 or 20 blog writers whom you follow fairly closely, you regularly comment on them either starting a discussion or continuing one. You particularly like a couple of blogs that always link to other interesting unknown writers you also latch onto. The blog is not just text, but a gateway to community, an active discussion and a gathering of like minds.

There are also about 20 or so blog fiction writers whom you like, who write short stories and novels. You take these to bed with you and read them on your e-reader. Some nights you fall asleep reading, other nights you can’t sleep because you’re engaged in a fiery discussion about Chapter 3 – a real-time, online book group.

Then some tech-head comes up with a new concept in publishing. The S-Blog – or StaticBlog. A blog that comes complete and pre-written, produced in hard-copy - as is. You can’t change it, you can’t interact with it. What’s more, it’s linear. And no more clicks. The future of reading.

You go to a shop, choose it and it’s yours. Static, unchanging text on a page. Once you’ve read it, you put it on your shelf and dust it yearly.

Oh, and someone in a corner office of a large multinational publishing house decides what goes in the S-Blog - not the author, and not the reader.

Can you hear the crickets?

Would Steve Jobs get a 15 minute standing ovation for that? 

The Writer and Reader Will be Happier or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

By Paul Bissett

Publishers will be unnecessary

What is the purpose of reading and writing? Broadly speaking: communication and/or enjoyment. To this end, what role does the publisher play? Typically they commission, edit, publish (produce), market and distribute, while managing risk, and with the ultimate goal of selling enough copies to make a profit. Repeat ad infinitum.

In the blogosphere the work is self-commissioned by the author; production and distribution are handled largely by the blogging software; marketing’s most powerful ally is word of mouth which is no more rampant or powerful than in the blogosphere itself, social media and the power of viral marketing; risks are virtually non-existent. So that leaves:


An editor’s role is to work with an author to produce the best possible work under the circumstances. The editor’s participation can range from fixing typos to the complete re-working of a text. Usually the role falls somewhere in the middle.

In her research paper The Future of Written Culture: Envisioning Language in the New Millennium Naomi S. Baron notes that the availability of home desktop publishing tools and online publishing means that “vetting and editing jobs are falling exclusively on the author’s shoulders.”[1]

Professional editing is something which has largely been lost in the blogosphere, but amateur or communal editing has boomed. If I post a blog entry with a factual error in it, no doubt I will get a comment correcting me. If I’m not corrected then it probably means no-one is reading my post and the error is inconsequential.

The beauty of the blog is its perpetual editability. If I publish a spelling mistake or miss a comma that causes no change in meaning and/or understanding, it is unlikely to raise an eyebrow. And why should it? Sure, we all get disenchanted when we read a novel and notice typos. But why do we get upset? Is it because ‘the editor should have done a better job’ and ‘I can’t believe the demise of literary standards’ and ‘I’m going to write a stern letter to my MP’ or is it that we paid a price at the checkout for a product, and if it’s anything less than professionally perfect we feel both ripped and cheesed off. I argue that often we expect a high standard because we have parted with money, not because it’s fundamental to our enjoyment of writing. Can a good story be ruined by typos? Unlikely. Can it be tainted by typos? It can be, but we are more likely to forgive its tainting if the good story is free.

Of course there’s more to editing than fixing typos. There’s developmental editing whereby stories are honed, and authors are guided to better narratives with varying degrees of success. Ultimately editors work with authors to produce the best piece of work. But that doesn’t mean every professionally edited novel is stellar, hence the existence of bargain book bins.

Hugh Amory (cited in Baron 2005, p. 25) commented “Perhaps the majority of the books ever printed have rarely been read”.

Similarly, not every blog is bad. Can a great story or article be produced without a professional editor? Of course it can. As with anything creative there are varying degrees of quality. But the clincher for me is this: might we lose some potential future classics by eliminating the editor? Yes we might. Might we discover new and fabulous writers that otherwise wouldn’t have been published and read? Certainly. The possibility of future classics is exponential when the blogosphere allows writers to self-edit based on reader feedback, circumvent the professional publishing process and publish without constraint.

So, with this utopian arrangement, what will happen to traditional literature?

The form of the blog will shape literature

There is always someone boasting that X technology is the coolest.
Around the corner is someone pronouncing X technology dead, we’re into Y now.
Meanwhile a quiet majority sit sullen in the corner wondering what’s wrong with A technology.

Generally, what A, X and Y represent, and which one of above statements you support, usually corresponds with your age.

There is no form to the blog. Blogs by design are free-flowing, interactive, always changing, user-defined, reader-defined… so perhaps a more accurate statement is the FREE-FORM of the blog will shape literature. And it will. But this will not result in the demise of the novel, or the magazine. In their infancy blogs were shaped by traditional publication formats, and now blogs are shaping traditional publications and literature.

To be considered successful, literature must find an audience. And it is because that audience is changing that literature must also change. Scott Karp, writer of the Publishing 2.0 blog posits that the nature of online reading not only offers readers a new way to read, but actually changes how readers’ brains function.

“What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?

”What if the networked nature of content on the web has changed not just how I consume information but how I process it?” [2]

The Atlantic’s Nicholas Carr offers his point of view:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” [3]

This is a very interesting change in reading habits, and if proved to be a common experience this can only result in popular literature changing in form to cater to the market’s changing abilities. One of the most popular books of recent years is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code which had an average chapter length of fewer than 6 pages. Is that a strategy for literature to cope with decreasing attention spans?

Or, with the advent of e-books and e-book readers, will we see a less linear approach to fiction - where novels hyperlink to maps and images or you can click to see a different character’s point of view.

But the statement that blogs will shape literature misses the point that blogs might very well BE literature. Like other published works, a selection of high quality, interesting blogs will stand out from the masses and be regarded as something of worth, and something readers desire and writers aspire to.

Ever read a book and thought it’d be better if…

A recent Nielson Study found that online ‘Member Communities’ (social media and the blogosphere) has surpassed email to become the fourth most popular internet sector.

Like them or not, Blogs are a big part of popular culture. And popular culture shapes literature. But not just by way of market strategy as described in the previous section.  Through blogging and micro-blogging (Twitter), direct communication with the author is possible.

Author Max Barry issued a new page of his novel Machine Man to subscribers every day encouraging feedback. Of this process Barry commented “My readers, they kept nudging me back on course whenever I started to spin out of control. And they sent me stuff: articles on the web, research and all these little things I usually discover only after the book is published, when it’s too late.” [4]

Book authors are using blogs to open up the previously concealed writing process to the world [5]. This is an example of how blogging can influence and shape literature in a practical and overt sense.

But I want to be a star

Studios and publishing houses are constantly scouting the blogosphere for new talent with the LA Times putting it like this:

“With the rise of social networking sites, blogs and Twitter, the ability to be plucked from deepest obscurity and thrust into the spotlight in record time has rarely been so within reach of Average Joe and Jane Public” [6]

There are numerous examples of blogs being published into books, some very successfully. To name a few:

The Resistance

There will, of course, be authors and writers (and readers) who resist change (i.e. the people referred to above wondering what’s wrong with A). There is nothing wrong with this, but ironically, this resistance to change and actively continuing traditional writing styles and publishing models can also in some way be attributed to the effect of the blog (and other developments) as it is a direct retaliation against the onslaught of progress. A passive-aggressive comment on change, if you like.

Both the writer and reader will be happier

I started my blog recently, partially because I was bored but mainly because I like writing and find it an enjoyable way to process my thoughts. Suprisingly though I have noticed since starting my blog that not only do I enjoy the process of writing it but it also makes me feel better once I finish and more than that I find myself looking forward to updating my blog in the future.” [8]

Sounds like happiness to me.

The point of the blog is freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to mark a place in the world with words. Obviously free speech does not come with a built-in audience. It never has and it never will. You can yell at a street corner but it doesn’t mean anyone’s listening.

But blogs offer options. Many many options. No one is forcing the population to put down their Jane Austen and read Joel’s blog on his cat. But if you’re a cat lover, you might find his photo of a cat hissing at sushi engaging.

The important point about blogging and happiness is not found in the medium but in the content. Like any other medium there are good and bad examples. But here is why blogs make writers and readers happier:


According to there are over 50 million blogs [9]. Why would this be so if it didn’t make people happy?

But are people reading?

“It remains the paradox of the world wide web and the global economy that, while this has been the decade in which millions have found a voice through the internet, only a minority has discovered an audience.” [10]

Sure, some the blogs might have an audience of 4. But without it those 4 people would be less satisfied. Who says an audience has to be large to qualify as significant? Who says 4 people’s happiness is less valuable than 4 million? Many bloggers are ecstatic when they receive 1 comment because SOMEONE is reading their words.

So what about the poor middlemen?

Publishers (and associated industries) as the middlemen, or gatekeepers, decide what to publish based on personal opinion, market research, focus groups and luck.

Ever heard the term ‘surprise hit’? This is when a (usually obscure) book or movie, or some such, becomes unexpectedly popular. A surprise hit usually breaks formula and was often produced cheaply with a higher than normal level of risk attached. The nature of surprise hits are that they surprise producers with their success – a sure sign that the producer did not understand the market they cater to.

Blogs can be bold and break formula without taking risks. What publisher would have thought that a significant audience was interested in a wannabe writer working her way through a 700 page French cookbook (The Julie/Julia Project) – but they were interested. The blog was turned into a movie and the movie into a book – the traditional industries garnering success from someone else’s surprise hit.

Who are publishers to decide what we should or shouldn’t be able to read?

Imagine a world where there are no books…


If this were a face-to-face presentation I would probably throw Minties at the first person to raise their hand. Instead, I will provide an e-reward to anyone who answers these questions in DSO.

  1. What makes Hamlet better than this blog?
  2. Who are your favourite blog writers?
  3. Who are your favourite book authors?
  4. How are book authors and blog writers different?

Quoted References

[1] Baron, N. S. 2005, The Future of Written Culture: Envisioning Language in the New Millennium, American University, Washington D.C., retrieved 20 August 2010,

[2] Karp, S. 2008, The Evolution From Linear Thought To Networked Thought, Publishing 2.0, retrieved 20 August 2010,

[3] Carr, N. 2008, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, The Atlantic, retrieved 20 August 2010,

[4] Steed, L 2010, ‘Read all about it’, The Big Issue, no. 352, April, pp. 15–17

[5] Leder, M., Jarvis, J., Cohen, A. & Karp, S., Blogs as Books, Books as Blogs, Tools of Change for Publishing, retrieved 20 August 2010,,%20Books%20as%20Blogs%20Presentation.pdf

[6] Dawn, R. 2010, Blogs move from monitors to TV and movie screens, Los Angeles Times, retrieved 15 August  2010,

[7] Callari, R. 2010, 'Sh*t My Dad Says' - First TV Sitcom With 'Social Network' Theme, Inventor Spot, retrieved 22 August 2010,

 [8] Alibi Alibi (username) 2010, Does Your Blog Make You Happy?, Google (Blogger), retrieved 18 August 2010,

[9] How many blogs are there? 50 million and counting, CYBERJOURNALIST.NET, retrieved 12 August 2010,

[10] McCrum, R. 2008, A thriller in ten chapters, The Guardian (UK), retrieved 12 August 2010,

Other References

Alexander, J., ‘The Personal and the political: e-zines, community and the politics of online publication’, Digital youth: emerging literacies in the World Wide Web, Hampton Press, New Jersey 2006, pp 161-227

Carvin, A. 2007, Learning to Embrace My Inner Blogger, National Public Radio, retrieved 24 August 2010,

Carvin, A. 2007, Timeline: The Life of the blog, National Public Radio, retrieved 24 August 2010,

davendeb (username), 2010, Will Travel Blogs Take Over Guide Books, The Picture Planet, retrieved 17 August 2010,

Drabelle, D. 2009, The Art of Editing, Short Stack, retrieved 22 August 2010,

Jobbins, L., ‘Do blogs, Facebook and Twitter drive book sales?’, Australian Author, vol. 41, no. 2. August, 2009, pp. 14-16

Kiss, J. 2010, How Facebook will take over the world, The Guardian (UK), retrieved 17 August 2010,

Malik, O., 2009, The Evolution of Blogging, Gigaom, retrieved 24 August 2010,

White, N. 2006, Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community?, The Knowledge Tree, retrieved 22 August 2010,–-launching-a-new-paradigm-for-online-community

2005, Blogs Gone Bad, The New Atlantis, retrieved 17 August 2010,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

As News Happens

News Story Broken
9:15am – 5 August 2010
Tipped off by online news provider, more than a hundred police officers converged on a suburban property in the city’s west shortly after 8:30am this morning. On arrival at the scene, officers questioned several journalists who had been camped outside the house for nearly an hour, many on their third flat white.

On condition of anonymity, one police officer confessed that authorities were yet to determine who the suspect is, or what crime may have been committed.

Anyone near the area is asked to contact who will pass information on to police once published.

More to come…

News Story In Progress
Updated 9:23am – 5 August 2010
Police remain in attendance at the dramatic scene unfolding in the city’s west. The small weatherboard house in the normally quiet Family Lane has become the focus of the biggest story of the hour. House-owner and occupant John Pickle (pictured right) was on his way to work when the story broke.

“I was heading for the bus stop when I was stopped by ten or twenty journalists with cameras and microphones,” said Mr Pickle. “I answered some questions and missed my bus.”

Police have taken the well-bearded John Pickle in for additional questioning. Little is known about Mr Pickle at this stage as Wikipedia searches have proven inconclusive.

Police are expected to give a press conference at 9:30.

More to come…

News Story Confirmed
Updated 9:38am – 5 August 2010
The scene at Family Lane in the city’s west has intensified with much of the world’s media congregating on the lawns of the normally calm suburban street.

Moments ago Chief of Police, Manga Lionheart, gave a press conference officially confirming that a news story was in progress.

“As this is an ongoing investigation I am limited in what I can say. However, I can now confirm that this is a news story – a significant, and very real, news story,” the Police Chief said. “I’ve been informed that all networks and major publications are represented here today either by journalistic staff or contractors. The AAP is also present, as are members of the public with camera phones.”

But Chief Lionheart remained quietly optimistic and urged calm.

“I am quietly optimistic and urge calm,” Chief Lionheart said.

More to come…

Media Under Fire From Nazis
10:02am – 5 August 2010
A left-wing lobby group with ties to al-Qaeda, Hitler Youth, recent oil disasters, the republican movement, and clubbing baby seals has claimed the media has gone too far with a recent news story broken by The group, known as the Ramsgate Under 13 Cricket Club, has claimed the story was a media beat-up, without substance, and forged a new low in journalism. The group accused of “inventing something out of nothing” which CEO, Malcolm Elizabeth Blackshirt, both agreed with and denied.

17 year old Mr Blackshirt responded angrily to vitriolic questioning at a press-conference saying, “with, like, the 24 hour news cycle and the public demand for, like,  instant news before-it-happens, no privacy, defamation legislation, dramatic music, alleged dramatisation, Lindsay Lohan, black-and-white, mysterious creature, on the run, vox-pop tarts, celebrity hair extension, we don’t always get things a hundred percent right. And when we don’t get things a hundred percent right we figure we may as well get them a hundred percent wrong. Our mantra was, is, and forever will be, ‘one hundred percent journalistic journalism’. That and ‘reach for the stars’.”

Despite being recorded on multiple recording devices, Mr Blackshirt denied having made this statement claiming that he was in bed with his porter at the time.

John Pickle remains in police custody for his role in the story.

More to come…

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sharpening Occam’s Razor

You should by now be familiar with the philosophy of Occam’s razor, the theory that states all things considered, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.
However, what most people aren’t familiar with is that Trevor Occam, former real estate mogul to the stars, often cut himself shaving with his now famous  razor.  This was not due to what most people believed to be carelessness (the simplest explanation), but rather a series of strange events which led to the opening of a nebular wormhole linking our universe with three parallel universes eventually absorbing Occam’s soul and  Albania’s entire supply of carob.  It is believed that Trevor Occam actually invented his razor theory in an effort to hide his embarrassing shaving mishaps and accidental threats to existence.
Needless to say he was also a vocal opponent to all brands of aftershave