The Internet – The Home of Old Data Made New

I have to admit to making this error myself.  I’ll perform a search online and fail to fully check the freshness date of the information I obtain. Of course, there are several levels of freshness date to consider. The first level is the information source. This is the easiest level of data to check. You simply look at the date of the material when you get to the page. Unfortunately, some authors don’t date their work, so you can’t always rely on a posting date. The next best alternative is to ask the search engine to list only those entries that come from a certain time frame. In most cases, you can verify that the information appearing in an article or other posting is current enough for your needs.

Unfortunately, just verifying the posting date may not be good enough. The second level of check is the version of the products discussed as part of the post. For example, you might come to my blog and find a post on CodeBlocks. Unless you read the article carefully, you might think that I’m discussing the latest version of CodeBlocks. However, I have a number of books that rely on CodeBlocks, so I might actually be discussing an older version of CodeBlocks that I used in a specific book. Reading carefully and ensuring you understand version issues is the best way to verify this second level of information.

A third level of freshness checking is the information sources used by the author. This is where things get tricky because the author could truly think that the information source used for an article is the most current available, yet it’s outdated before the author even uses it. Some technologies change so fast that using a resource even a few months old is deadly. These resources become outdated so quickly that they can blindside even a professional author, much less someone who writes on the side. Verifying this level of information requires that you depend on at least three information sources (I recommend finding as many as you can). Gently nudging an article author and mentioning that the information sources might contain outdated material is often helpful when done in a constructive manner.

Freshness checking can occur at even deeper levels. The point is that you can’t be sure that a resource that keeps information literally forever contains the latest information on any given topic. In addition, even when that information is available, it’s up to you to find it. I do try to provide the latest information available when I can. However, when the topic is a question on an older book, I need to address the question in the context of that book and will provide you with some sort of version information so you know what to expect. If you ever question the freshness of the information I provide, please feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Too Much Detail

A trend has started in publishing of all sorts and it affects technical writing most of all. A friend of mine recently wrote a piece entitled, “A Multimedia Avalanche.” The post spoke to me on many different levels. As an author, it spoke to me of the need to keep my pieces short and to the point. No one wants to read every detail about every event that has ever happened—it simply isn’t possible to absorb more than the “Reader’s Digest” version of many of the events that take place in our lives. It makes me think of the supposed Sergeant Friday (Dragnet) quote, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The problem with using a medium such as the Internet is that people tend to think in terms of unlimited space, rather than limited reader attention. As an author, it’s important to write concisely, yet clearly.

As a reader, it spoke to my desire to throttle some authors to within an inch of their lives. After wasting my time, they never do seem to get to the point. An editor of mine is famous for pointing to the need to state the purpose of an article within the first paragraph and then to keep the article focused on that purpose. It’s good writing practice to write the beginning and ending of the article first, and then write the material needed to fill in the details. It’s a simple trick to keep the article short and focused.

As a citizen, the article spoke to the need to keep the media in check. No, the government shouldn’t perform this task; the reader should. When the media hypes a story all out of proportion, it brings out the mob mentality of some people. Suddenly, the government finds itself swamped with calls for needless changes for a non-event that was sensationalized by someone who wasn’t thinking. These sorts of issues tend to waste considerable funds that could be better used for other purposes (such as saving the taxpayer from an increase in taxes).

Information overload, wasted money, wasted time, and other such problems will only increase as citizen journalists and others with way too much time on their hands contribute toward an increasing array of articles that bury the reader in detail. To quote my friend’s article, “just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.” It’s good advice.

What is your take on too much detail, especially as it relates to technical writing? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Looking for the Good News in a Bad News World

I spend a lot of time reading various news sources because I like to be informed about what is going on around me. Knowing about the world and what is happening in it is useful. However, too much of anything, even information, isn’t good. Sometimes I’m hit with information overload, just like anyone else—there is simply too much information for any one person to track today. So, I make an effort to limit my news intake to the kinds of news that I find most helpful and interesting.

The thing that strikes me about the majority of the media-generated news out there is that it’s all bad. Certainly people’s lives can’t be so terrible that there is only bad news to be had. Therefore, while I attempt to avoid information overload, I also attempt to find a least a little good news to go with the overwhelming quantity of bad news. If you try this yourself, you’ll agree that it isn’t easy. So, it was with great pleasure that I recently read “A Random Act of Kindness” by William Bridges. Green Market Press has been a constant source of interesting posts and a lot of good news over the years and I hope you’ll read it too.

Even if you choose not to read this particular source of good news, I encourage you to find a source of good news that you will read. I’m not saying we should take the Pollyanna view of the world, but constantly drowning yourself in bad news can only lead to negative consequences. Our world is a mix of the good and the bad, so the input you receive should also be a mix. Take time to look for a bit of good news each day and you’ll find that you see the world in a different light.

What are your favorite good news sources? Why do you find them an uplifting source of information? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Information Overload – The Conclusions

I’ve been
discussing the issue of potential information overload with my blog entries for the past several weeks now (see Information Overload) and it’s time to come to some conclusions. Several of you wrote in to tell me that you’d actually like me to write more. As nice as that would be, my current schedule won’t allow for it. In order to provide you with a high quality of writing, I need to focus my attention on a few good posts, rather that a flood of mediocre ones.

I received a total of 117 e-mails. Three of those e-mails wanted me to publish posts six days a week. Because that wasn’t one of the options, I chose not to chart them as part of the output you see here.

BlogFrequency

Strictly speaking, most of the blog readers would prefer that I publish posts four day a week. As you can see though, the numbers are pretty close. What I’ve decided to do is publish four posts a week from this point on, unless I happen to have an excessively easy week (when I’ll publish five) or an excessively hard week (when I’ll publish three). I’m hoping that the new schedule will meet with everyone’s approval.

As far as content is concerned, I only receive a few messages that talked about it at all. Most people seem quite happy with the content that you see on the blog now. There are some people who like the technical articles best and others who like the self-sufficiency articles best, but even amongst those who expressed a preference, they usually added that they liked at least some of the posts in the other category. For the moment, I’ll continue to post the mix of articles that I do now. Of course, I’m always happy to hear from you about blog issues. Feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com if you have any questions or concerns about the blog at all.

 

A Reminder About Information Overload

Last week I wrote a post entitled, Information Overload. It really is important to me to find ways to serve your needs. If you’ve already responded to that post, please accept my thanks. I’ll be posting the results next week Wednesday. If you haven’t responded, you still have another week to respond to the post by writing a comment or sending an e-mail to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Make sure you also tell me about posts that you particularly like or dislike. While it isn’t possible for me to tailor my posts to meet the needs of any specific person, I do try to meet the needs of the majority. Of course, I’m always open to your ideas and suggestions as well. My goal is to provide you with the best content that I can !

 

Information Overload

I’m always looking for ways to serve your needs better. Of course, that means reviewing the statistics for this blog so I know what you find most useful, reflecting on your comments both in the blog and in e-mail, and looking at the latest trends in content presentation. This third possible source of useful information has made me wonder whether I’m not overloading you with information. Check out the post entitled, “Why I Will Be Posting Less” to see for yourself. Information overload is indeed a problem in our society and I would want to be the last one to add to anyone’s burden, especially after writing posts such as Learning to Unplug.

Of course, every blog is different, as are the people who read it. I’m taking a page from Mr. Hyatt’s blog and considering what you need from me in the way of usable information. What I’d like you to do is tell me how often you’d like me to post new additions to this blog:

 

  • Two times a week
  • Three times a week
  • Four times a week
  • Five times a week


You can tell me as a comment to this post or through e-mail at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. It’s important to me to provide you with enough information, but not to overwhelm you. Of course, if I end up posting less often, I’ll cover some topics a little less often too.

From what I’ve been able to garner from the statistics that the blog software automatically maintains for me, you really do like the eclectic mix of topics on this blog, so I’ll continue in that vein and using about the same percentages of posts as I do now. However, I’d like to hear about any topics you particularly like or dislike. Be sure to e-mail me about your concerns. It’s important to me to serve your needs the best way I can.

I’ll gather statistics for a couple of weeks from you (reminding you at times about this post), and then provide an update here on what I’ve learned. These sorts of discoveries are always interesting and often produce unexpected results. I’m sure you’ll want to know what I discover just as much as I want to learn your thoughts and opinions about this blog. In the meantime, happy reading!