Micro Matt

Micro thoughts and mini posts.

Trying a new morning routine lately. Instead of immediately checking email, and social media, and then sitting down to work, I’m doing anything but those things — and then sitting down only when I’m ready.

This started two weeks ago, when I was camping in the North Carolina mountains. I would get up, take my dog Holden out, feel how the weather was, and then make a pot of coffee. I’d sit for a while outside in the quiet and breeze, and see if any thoughts came. Eventually, when I felt a natural lull, I’d head to a coffee shop to start working.

I’m generally trying to find my “center” again — something I feel I’ve lost not just through recent life changes, but over the last decade, if I think about it. (That’s a digression for another time.) But I know I’ve always found my center outside, or by creating things: words, music, drawings, paintings. So without very much nature around me now, I’m doing something pointlessly creative every morning, with no real purpose or goal, before I even think of work.

The results have been very good so far. New ideas — useful or not — are bubbling up that I don’t think would exist without this kind of mental space. I’m slowly feeling more like a whole person again. And when I do sit down to work, I’m feeling a little more focused on what needs to be done — honestly, because I’d love to have more open-ended creative time.

#routine

New entry in my ongoing series on the merits of staying home, living in the metaverse, over seeing the world outside. Here I’m floating over Teotihuacán in Mexico, pretending to be unimpressed.

A selfie of me, con sombrero, looking unamused from 1000 feet off the ground, with a sunrise, mountains, and other hot air balloons behind me.

#shouldvestayedhome

Working on putting a better system in place for customer support. I’ve tried setting aside an “email hour” every day — literally scheduling it on my calendar. But the email inbox is too messy; I have a system for marking important requests but things get pushed down and out of sight; in the end it’s too overwhelming for me to sit down and get through everything in a consistent way.

I think we’ll get some kind of support ticket system in place, so there’s a dedicated area for people to go when they need help with something, and a single place I can log into every morning to go through and clear out. I’m not sure where we’ll send people that have questions before they use the product — I’ll need to figure out a sane channel for them that doesn’t get used for all kinds of other things. But my priority is keeping track of customer issues.

Today, all day, I worked on nothing but my backlog of requests — they piled up a bit after a mental break trip last week. There are still important requests and conversations I need to follow up on. It’s really not too much overall, if I took care of everything and then stayed on top of it going forward. Just need to get to that point. (If I haven’t answered your email, you should hear from me soon!)

#customerSupport

I would very much like to write two or three new blog posts at once right now, and this might push me to hack together a Draft.as prototype soon. Does anyone else have this problem?

My usual solution is opening multiple Write.as tabs, but that keeps the anxiety high. If I ever accidentally close a tab before publishing, one draft gets lost, since the editor only ever saves to a single “latest” draft.

#writeas

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and specialization is a great way to stay ignorant to the way everything interconnects.

Relatedly, I discovered a funny counterintuitive thing in college, going for my degree in Computer Science.

I was very uninterested for the first year or two of school. I'd already been programming for years by then. I'd been paid as a developer. I spent more time with friends. My grades quickly slipped. I failed a class or two. I wasn't learning anything new or putting in the work.

Many things contributed, but I started truly turning things around after taking an American Literature class and, for the first time ever, doing the assigned reading.

I fell in love with reading.

I started going to the library, walking through random aisles picking interesting-looking books off the shelf as a pastime.

I started and never finished 100 books. I'd start reading in the middle of a book, or on a page that simply caught my eye.

Somehow I always found insight from small, random passages in those pages — whether it was a book on mythology, or filmmaking, or some composer, or “weblogging,” or outer space.

It wasn't really insight into my field; just a better “sense” of things.

Soon, that actually bled into the work I was supposed to be doing.

Without trying or even realizing, I started hearing what I was supposed to in my classes. Everything was suddenly relevant — or at least, info was easier to sift through to find what mattered most.

I started getting interested. I started getting better grades. I started practices I still carry today, like taking notes to reinforce what I'm hearing in the moment (even if I never look at them again).

I got comfortable with having “unproductive” interests, and “wasting time” when there's allegedly something more important to do. It's counterintuitive, but I know now that these always feed back into the whole.

Of course, I've suffered similar periods of disinterest in the professional world. I wither slowly when I'm forced into a specialized role.

In many aspects, me starting a business has been for no other reason than to allow myself to be a generalist.

(Originally from my Twitter thread.)

I think my problem with most #marketing is that it’s very top-down, robotic and premeditated, detached and contrived. Thinking about growing my business again, I’m realizing how much I absolutely need any kind of “strategy” we use to be organic for me to feel good about it — scattering seeds instead of manufacturing a forest; forming mutually beneficial connections instead of forcing a product into people’s lives; letting things grow when people take to it, and die when they don’t.

Working on something else today; but some quick thoughts on Remark.as this morning:

Some validation: Earlier this week, heard from yet another person that they’d like to use this, if possible. We’re a good way’s off from integrating with other sites, but it’s good to know this will be so useful.

UI ideas: In some sketches over the weekend, I came up with essentially a chat interface. Blogs you follow show up in your “buddy list,” and their posts in particular are the “chat rooms.” Each post is the topic of conversation; you can reply with a short message or a blog post — the latter would then take you to another discussion room. Replies via ActivityPub would show up in-line. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure how technically feasible yet. There’s a lot to still think about.

Social club: This will basically be the “social network” of the suite (if we have to call it that). Thinking about reducing spam and abuse in the early days, I’m imagining we leverage our paywall, since that’s worked well for reducing junk on Read Write.as. But I’m imagining an additional twist: if you’ve ever paid for Write.as Pro, or our old Casual plan, or bought an add-on, you’ll be able to socialize on Remark.as. And if you haven’t bought anything but you want to join, maybe you’d pay a cheap one-time “membership” fee. The goal would be to stay widely accessible — I’m not trying to make this an exclusive club — but filter out drive-by trolls and spammers.

The business: I’m trying to distill down the “point” of our business at this point, from the user’s perspective. I’m thinking less in terms of “creative tools” now and more “starting a discussion.” Because even when we write something without the chance for someone to comment, are we not starting a conversation? Even if it’s just in the reader’s mind. It seems that if we’re publishing on the internet, it’s to reach someone else — no matter who that is, or if we even get a response. The change in framing is interesting and eye-opening.

Support for #categories is deployed. This should give us a chance to make sure it works in the wild — but everything seems to be running smoothly so far.

One tricky thing: do we track which #categories are included in the post itself vs. in pure metadata?

Assuming all are inline, things are simple: on publish or update, we always parse hashtags in the body. If a tag isn’t there, we delete its association with the post. If it is there, we associate it with the post.

If we also want to have pure-metadata categories, so we don’t have to clutter up a post with visible hashtags, then we need to track which categories are inline vs. metadata-only, so we know which ones to remove on update and which ones to keep. (And now this is getting complicated.)

It’s mostly getting complicated in the UI. Assuming the editor now has a “categories” field, we’ll need to keep it in sync between inline / editor hashtags and metadata-only tags. I mean, it’s unlikely someone would use both; I don’t want to cater to that edge case, but I also don’t want to exclude it if we don’t have to.

We might also follow the pattern we’ve laid out with other add-on post metadata, like #authors. Right now, you can add an author in the Rich Text (RT) editor, but not the Plain Text (PT) editor. In this way, we keep our underlying flexibility, but the client / editing UI guides users toward the correct input method. I think we can assume that the PT editor is for focused writing and inline metadata; the RT editor is for exact control over presentation and metadata. I’m not sure if that’s entirely correct, but I think I have to start there.

#dev

Continuing yesterday’s work, internal support for #categories is finished. The result is basically a lightweight layer on top of the existing hashtag-based system.

Now whenever you create or modify a post, or move it to a blog, we’ll parse out the hashtags and automatically create categories from them, as necessary. Categories store original information about hashtags, plus a user-friendly title (which can include spaces, punctuation, capitalization you want, etc.) and a URL-friendly slug. (You can see some of the underlying code here.)

In this way, they’re completely optional and unobtrusive by default. If you care to carefully manage your categories, with this new system, you’ll be able to do it. If you just want to tag a post occasionally, this won’t slow you down. And if your needs change as you write more posts, this will be there when you decide to organize things.

I still have more testing to do before deploying this change, and even then, users won’t notice anything new yet. But the groundwork will be there for us to tackle the management side next.

#dev

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