What #YesAllWomen means to me as a man

Like many men, I initially saw the shootings at UCSB last week as just another in a long string of incidents of gun violence perpetrated by another in a long string of lonely, mentally unstable men who were as far removed from me as it’s possible for two people to be. I braced myself for the usual cycle of mourning mixed with outrage, scattered calls for gun control legislation, inaction on the part of legislators and politicians in the face of one of the best-organized grassroots organizations in the country (the NRA), followed by a fading from the public consciousness after a set number of media cycles. What happened instead, though—the evolving conversation best encapsulated under the #YesAllWomen hashtag—blew a hole in the way that I, as a man, see the world and the other half of its inhabitants. It also made me realize that I have a lot more in common with this particular shooter than I would ever have been comfortable admitting at first glance.

Like most men probably do, I consider myself to be “one of the good guys,” so what’s been most eye-opening about this whole unfolding discussion is not only realizing that there’s a huge gap between the way that I see the world when I walk down the street and the way that a woman sees it, but also that it was possible for me to have and to have had so many close relationships with women over the course of my life and yet still be so ignorant of some of some of the most fundamental realities that half of the world’s population encounters on a daily basis. It felt like peeking through a doorway into a hidden world that was much more twisted and sinister than the one I’m used to seeing every day; I found that I couldn’t just ignore what I’d seen and go back to living my life without in some way reassessing my relationships to all of the women in my life, including the vast majority that I’ll only ever interact with tangentially.

If you’re a man reading this and you’re not already familiar with the hashtag, go spend a few minutes browsing around. The reason the thread is so powerful is that it reads like a support group for women to bare their souls about a small handful of the physical and psychological transgressions, large and small, that they suffer on a daily basis at the hands of men. Reading the stories and articles that started pouring out from every corner of the Internet made me begin to realize just how big a deal this is for all women—how essential harassment by men is to the basic experience of being a woman. It was a realization that, as a man, I’d been able to go 34 years of my life without ever being smacked in the face by. “I had no idea it was this bad” sounds like a weak excuse, but it’s the truth.

Like all of us do, I grew up in a world where women are highly sexualized in virtually all aspects of society, from advertising to movie plots to actual pornography. I became aware of the detrimental effect of all of that on myself and my relationships to women at some point early on, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I started really thinking about its impact on the women in my life. The biggest turning point for me was starting to work with the Youth Commission during my time in the Mayor’s Office.

The Youth Commission is a group of teenagers who advise the Mayor and the City Council on policy issues. I became their staff liaison/program manager in June of 2010, and over the course of the years that followed I got to know a lot of extraordinary young people who served as commissioners. One of my main goals with the Youth Commission was to get the students to realize their own ability to influence the political systems in which they live, and in order to do that I had to open my eyes to what the world looks like from the perspective of a teenager. As part of that process, for the first time in my life I started to think about what the world looks like to a teenage girl, what messages society has for her that are different than the ones they had for me when I was a teenage boy. I started paying more attention to reasons why girls decide not to run for political office thanks to organizations like the Washington Bus and the Women’s Funding Alliance, processing negative portrayals of women in the media thanks to organizations like Reel Grrls and Powerful Voices, and thinking about the world in which my friends’ infant daughters would be growing up whenever I would spend time with them. As my awareness grew I thought I was doing my part by fighting against the anonymized “other men” who were conspiring to keep women and girls down; I knew that I still objectified women more than I wanted to, but I saw that as something that really only affected me.

While I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I like to think that I’m a much better male ally to the women and girls in my life now than I was four years ago…but until last week I’d still always thought of misogyny and violence against women as problems for other men but not for me. I would previously never have thought of checking out an attractive woman walking down the street as existing on the same spectrum as Elliott Rogers opening fire on a college campus. What I’ve realized they have in common, though, is that they’re both fundamentally rooted in a system in which women are viewed first and foremost as sex objects, which is what makes possible all of the objectification, infantilization, and abuse that #YesAllWomen is a testament to and a reaction against. Do I fight against that system and try to treat all women in my life with respect? Yes. But do I also contribute to it myself? Absolutely. And that, I think, has been the biggest takeaway for me from all of this: it’s all too easy to say that I belong in one bucket or another—good or bad, ally or enemy—but the truth is that both sides are a part of me. I’m used to focusing on the good, but it’s useful to shine a spotlight on the bad from time to time, too; as Justice Brandeis once said, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Even though I’m part of what I assume is the vast majority of men who’s never going to commit an act of abuse—sexual or otherwise—against a woman, that doesn’t mean that I’m not part of the problem. For the first time in my life I feel, viscerally, my own culpability in the perpetuation of a system in which not only are women made to feel uncomfortable and afraid solely because of who they are, but also one in which the emotion that’s been tapped by #YesAllWomen is such a universal but unspoken truth for women that learning about it, as a man, feels somewhat akin to a fish learning that water exists.

I’m not going to try to forecast what the long-term impact of this conversation is going to be in my life—I imagine it’ll be something I’ll look back on as a moment of awakening, but at the very least it’s highlighted the connection between my internal world and the world that women have to navigate on a daily basis, which is huge in and of itself. Going forward I’m going to have to hold myself to a higher standard of personal conduct in order to still be able to think of myself as one of the good guys.

Lessons from self-publishing my first book

Lessons from self-publishing my first book

As some of you may have noticed, I published a book last month—it’s called Thirty-Three: My Jesus Year in Blog Posts, and it’s available in both Kindle and print versions. As the name implies, it’s a collection of posts from this blog between February of 2013 and February of this year that, taken collectively, serve as a memoir of the personal journey that I embarked on over the course of that period of time. I didn’t publish it to make money off of it or to reach a wider audience or any of that, though; I did it for two reasons: 1) those posts are pretty long, and I think they lend themselves well to a longer format for any of you who are interested in reading them that way, and 2) I wanted to see for myself precisely what’s involved in self-publishing a book these days, including having an excuse to play around with some online marketing tools.

This post is going to be entirely about #2—and yes, I am enjoying the irony of writing a blog post about a book of blog posts from this very blog :) Note that I focused exclusively on Amazon, so I can’t speak to the other self-publishing platforms out there.

The basics

There are two roughly similar processes you’ll need to go through on two different platforms to publish your book, one for the Kindle version and the other for the print version. The Kindle platform is called Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP (kdp.amazon.com), and the print platform is called CreateSpace (the website is createspace.com, but it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon now). I published the Kindle version of my book first and then did the CreateSpace version afterwards, but if you want to save time and you’re OK with the inferior CreateSpace cover creator program—or you create or pay someone to create your own high-quality cover image, which I’d recommend if your goal is actually to sell copies—you can skip KDP and just click a button during the CreateSpace process to cross-publish it as a Kindle e-book too.

The major pieces of content that you need in order to publish on either platform are a manuscript (any MS Word document will do), a cover file, and a handful of metadata (a synopsis, your author bio & headshot if desired, and your list of keywords for on-site search purposes). The entire publishing process took me about 5 or 6 hours, the vast majority of which went to creating the two cover files and proofing my manuscript once it was online.

The manuscript

CreateSpace has a very specific template you’ll need to use that conforms to whatever printed dimensions you choose for your book; for KDP the only piece of special formatting I did to my existing document was to add an automated table of contents using MS Word’s Heading 1 and Heading 2 tags so that readers can skip between chapters on the e-book (see here for full instructions). If you’re looking to save time, do the entire thing in CreateSpace and then just push it to KDP; I can’t speak from experience, but I would imagine that as long as you include an automated table of contents in your CreateSpace file it should transfer to KDP, too.

Both platforms have an online proofreading tool that you can use to go through your book page by page to make sure everything lines up properly after it’s been uploaded (the KDP version lets you simulate different reading devices, too, which is nice); you can also order a hardcopy proof from CreateSpace, or just approve it based on the digital version.

If you go through KDP you’ll encounter a blank for your ISBN—the short answer is that you don’t need one for an e-book, but they can be useful for certain purposes. I stopped researching it pretty quickly after I established that you don’t need one for an e-book :) Print books, as far as I know, do require an ISBN, but CreateSpace makes it easy to either buy one or get one for free as part of their process—I paid $10 for one to avoid listing CreateSpace as the publisher for one of their free ISBNs. 

The cover

KDP and CreateSpace both have their own automated cover creators that let you design your own cover if you want to. KDP’s gives you a lot more flexibility, but you’ll only be able to use what you design for the Kindle version of your book; CreateSpace’s automated tool frankly kind of sucks, but if you manage to make something you like with it you can download the file for future use and, as with the manuscript, automatically push the whole package to a Kindle e-book. I didn’t do this, so I can’t speak to it directly; I designed my Kindle cover using the KDP tool and my CreateSpace cover using their tool.

If your goal is to sell as many copies of your book as possible (mine wasn’t, in this case), I’d recommend paying a professional to design your cover for you—CreateSpace offers $400 and $600 cover design packages, and I’m sure there are a bunch of other places out there that’ll gladly make you a professional-looking cover in exchange for a little cash. If you have your own cover file, you can upload it directly to either platform.

Royalties, KDP Select, etc

On KDP, the basic decision you have to make when you decide how much to charge for your book is whether you want to charge $2.99 or more and get 70% of the proceeds of everything you sell (less a very small per-megabyte charge to cover distribution costs) or charge less than that and get a straight 35% royalty (with no additional per-megabyte charge). I started mine off at $2.99 thinking I would keep it there, but once I started playing around with AdWords in earnest I dropped the price to $0.99, just to eliminate the variable of cost from the equation. You also have the option to enroll your book in KDP Select, which entails agreeing to distribute the e-book version of your work exclusively through the Kindle store (i.e., not simultaneously in Nook, ePub, iTunes, etc versions) for the first 90 days after which it’s published in exchange for making your book part of the Kindle lending library, which lets Amazon Prime members borrow it for free and gives you a portion of a $6 million pot of money that Amazon’s set aside to compensate lending library authors based on—as far as I could tell—the percentage of overall lending library downloads of your book vs all other books in the program.

On CreateSpace it’s much simpler—they’re an on-demand printer, so there are no order minimums or anything like that, but as a result the per-unit price is much higher than it would be otherwise. The minimum list price for my book was $7.28, which would have yielded royalties of $1.45 per sale; I went with an even $9.99, which works out to $3.08 in royalties per Amazon order according to their calculator. As a point of comparison, the Kindle price point that gets you to $3.08 in royalties is $4.44 (at the 70% royalty level).

Online marketing

One of the biggest reasons I was excited about publishing the book was having an excuse to play around with Facebook ads and AdWords (Google’s paid ad platform—those little text ads you see to the right of your search results)—and it didn’t disappoint :) The short version, for me at least, was that Facebook ads were a complete waste of money, whereas AdWords worked well in the beginning and then fantastically well once I tweaked my ad copy a bit.

The copy that I used in my Facebook ad and my first AdWords ad were identical; they both linked directly to the Kindle product page, but the Facebook ad included a thumbnail image of the book cover, whereas the AdWords one was just text (headline underlined):

My “Jesus Year” in essays 33 was a tough year…but also one of my best. $0.99, or free with Prime.

Not the greatest copy, as I would learn, but the numbers were still very eye-opening: between April 22nd and April 27th I got 36,055 impressions and 18 clicks from my Facebook ad, for a click-through rate of 0.049%. My average cost per click was $0.62, so I paid a total of $11.16 for those 18 clicks.  Over the same period of time, my AdWords campaign generated 25,342 impressions and 124 clicks, for a click-through rate of 0.49%–which I’d never noticed until just now was exactly 10 times my Facebook click-through rate—and my average cost per click was only $0.04. So not only were the AdWords clicks 15.5x cheaper than Facebook’s, I was also getting them 10x faster. I canceled my Facebook campaign on the spot and left the AdWords one running at the rate of $1/day to get more data and then largely forgot about it.

When I checked back in on May 10th, the numbers were pretty similar—398 clicks from 92,005 impressions, for a click-through rate of 0.43% with an average cost per click of $0.03—and I decided to see what I could do increase my click-through rate, with 1% as my initial goal. I looked at the AdWords data to see what organic search terms had driven most of those 398 clicks, and I rewrote my ad to cater more explicitly to them, which resulted in the following (headline underlined):

A cheap Kindle ebook :) Self-published personal essays on loss, redemption, and joy. $0.99

The self-consciously super-SEO headline clearly worked—over the course of the past 10 days that the new ad has been running, it’s had 22,251 impressions and  3,503 clicks at $0.01 per click, for an almost unbelievable average click-through rate of 15.74%. That’s 32x higher than the click-through rate for my original AdWords ad, and 320x higher than for my original Facebook ad. I turned off the campaign earlier today, because a) I already had the data I wanted, and b) I’m really and truly not making any money off of this book—my purchase conversion rate from all those clicks was pretty much zero, so it didn’t make sense to keep paying for it. I knew that would most likely be the case going in, though; the market for Thirty-Three is people who know me and want to read a bunch of my unfocused, loosely structured personal essays, and that market is almost completely a subset of my friends, family, and followers on social media.

I approached this as an exercise in how to publish and drive clicks to a book online, and in that sense it was a smashing success. My next time around I’ll try to tackle the question of how you actually get people to buy what you’re selling—the next book I write will be written with a much larger audience in mind and with an explicit goal of selling copies, so sales conversion rates will be the main metric I’ll be looking to.

Conclusion

Looking back on this little experiment, I can honestly say that I got everything I wanted from it and more—I’m comfortable with online marketing now, and any mental roadblock I once had about the difficulty of self-publishing is gone, leaving me that much freer to focus on what really counts when it comes to online publishing: what I want to write next :)

If you’re considering going the self-publishing route yourself and you want the quick and easy takeaways from my experience without reading the whole post, here you go:

  1. If you’re going to publish both a print and an e-book version of your work, start with CreateSpace and use it to quickly and easily transfer your print content to an e-book. There’s virtually no additional cost to offering a print version (I paid $10 for an ISBN and another $15 or so including shipping to have a proof mailed to me, but you can skip the physical proof and even get a free ISBN if you’re willing to let CreateSpace list themselves as the publisher), and it increases your potential market beyond people with e-readers, so it’s worth considering.
  2. You’ll make a lot more money at a lower price point on e-books than printed ones (assuming you’re charging at least $2.99 for your work and going with Amazon’s 70% royalty option), so an e-book should definitely be part of your strategy.
  3. Use Microsoft Word’s automated table of contents feature (see instructions here) to create a table of contents that you can use for the print version of your book but that will also enable Kindle hyperlinks for your e-book readers.
  4. For online marketing, forget about Facebook and focus on AdWords—set a small daily budget, let it run for a while to get some good data on how people who click on your ad are coming to it based on their search terms, and then adjust your ad copy and tweak as necessary to increase your traffic.

That’s it! Let me know if you have any other questions about my experience, and good luck if you’re embarking on the self-publishing route yourself :)

 

Back online

Friday, February 7th, 2014, 3:14 pm

Today’s the last day of my 15-day electronic communication vacation, and before it comes to an end I wanted to take some time to reflect on this experience while it’s still going on. I’ve done enough traveling in my life to know that once the trip is over the perspective that goes along with it has a tendency to fade; my intention is to carry the lessons I’ve learned here forward in my daily life, but just in case…here goes.

For those of you who didn’t read my last post, the rules of the exercise prevented me from using the Internet in any form or fashion or my phone*—anything else was fair game. At midnight the night of Thursday, January 23rd I powered off and stored my iPhone, unplugged my wifi router, and switched off the wifi antennas on my laptop and my base-model Kindle…and I won’t have turned any of them back on until just after midnight tonight, immediately before I post this.

So what was it like going without modern connectivity tools for 15 days? The one-line answer to that question is that aside from text messages I barely missed any of it, and taking away all of the constant little distractions and mental background processes that email, Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds generate meant both that I was much more focused and that everything I did was something I proactively wanted to do; it felt like a real vacation.

What I did do was spend a huge amount of time writing and reading in depth (books, but also the hundreds of long-form articles** I’ve accumulated on my Kindle over the years), two things that I don’t do nearly enough of in my daily life; spend time with friends and go to events and parties just like I always do (including hosting my 34th birthday party here on Tuesday, which was really wonderful); write—and then start to re-write—my first play, thanks to the excellent Adult Playwright Program at ACT; listen to the radio again at home for the first time in a long time; put together my talk for Ignite Seattle 23 on Wednesday, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned as a Car Salesman”; and generally relax in a way that I seldom do even when I actually am on vacation. It was a fantastic experience, and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who’s interested in the idea of unplugging—if you can’t do 15 days, try it for a weekend or even just a day and see what you think.

The longer-than-one-line answer about my takeaways would be as follows:

  • Single-tasking is amazing. Going without my phone, especially, meant that I was more present in every area of my life—riding the bus, talking to friends, walking around the city without listening to music, waking up in the morning and thinking about my day and how I wanted to spend it instead of my usual habit of immediately rushing to see what I’d missed in the world while I was asleep…etc. I’d never realized how much mental energy all of the little phone-based mental subroutines took up for me (Did he/she text me back? How many new Facebook notifications do I have? Did anyone retweet or favorite that great thing I just tweeted? Has [x] emailed me back about [y] yet? Am I missing a new article from [a] or [b] that everyone else is going to have read the next time I talk to them? What’s happening on Twitter? What are all my friends up to?) until they were gone. It turns out that when every moment no longer carries with it the possibility for something really interesting/affirming/important/exciting /otherwise distracting to suddenly pop into your life, it’s much easier to focus on what’s immediately in front of you. Go figure :)
  • Insourcing my memory and attention has been wonderful. Just over the course of two weeks, not having the crutch of my phone to rely on on has been really useful in improving my ability to recall facts and figures on my own, and even simple things like not being able to use Siri to set a geofenced reminder to prompt me to do something when I get home or not being able to set a timer on my phone when I’m cooking have meant that I have to remember to check my watch (Basis, technically; it still functions wonderfully even when it’s completely offline) and just remember on my own what I need to do and when instead, both of which sound like small things but actually make a noticeable difference; I like that they keep me much more present and connect me more closely to what I’m doing instead of providing a layer of technological separation. The kitchen timer was the first thing that I noticed, but once I started paying attention to it I was amazed by how much control over my attention I willingly cede to the technology in my life.  
  • Taking away all of my reactive time was incredibly freeing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders, at the end of the week, why more of the items on my personal to-do list haven’t actually gotten done and where all of my free time’s gone. In many ways the things I’ve been doing without are all of my distraction technologies—the quick little email checks and glances at Facebook and Twitter and all the rest of it that, because they’re spread out over the course of the day and because they carry with them the constant promise of something more interesting or more stimulating than whatever it is that I’m doing, are constantly either directly interrupting my day or tempting me to interrupt it. Email especially, but also social media feeds to a lesser extent, functions, as I once heard it described, as other people’s to-do list for you. Being able to focus solely on my own to-do list, which tends to be comprised of slower-paced, less instantly gratifying projects and pursuits, has been really fulfilling.
  • Out of everything I’ve given up for the last two weeks, being able to quickly and easily communicate with individual people I care about is by far what I’ve missed the most. I had a feeling going in that would be the case—deciding to turn my phone all the way off was the hardest part for me—and I wasn’t wrong. Postcards and waiting to see people in person are well and good, but they’re poor substitutes for the kind of simple, instantaneous, and streamlined communication that text messages, especially, make possible. If I do something like this again—and I assume I will—I’ll most likely keep the phone but switch off cellular data and wifi. I have to say, though, that even though I didn’t really miss my feeds, taken as an aggregate they do represent by far the most highly evolved way to get information about the world around me that currently exists, so I’m not planning on giving them up, just tweaking my relationship to them to maximize their upsides and minimize their downsides.

So what, specifically will I be taking away from this experience when I turn my phone on and hop back online in the morning? Several things:

  • Right off the bat I’ll be taking a lesson from the success of my Xbox policy (I only let myself play for 30 minutes per day) and keeping my external inputs in check by intentionally drawing a box around them, and then adjusting the size and shape of that box as necessary. My current plan is to give myself a total allowance of 30 minutes per day for Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and email combined, spendable in either one 30-minute chunk or two 15-minute chunks, with special dispensation one day out of the week to catch up fully on email. I’m sure I’ll have to go through multiple iterations of that plan before I arrive at one that I’m happy with, but it’s an exercise that I’m looking forward to.
  • Something else I’ll be trying out is leaving my phone either at home or off of my immediate person by default instead of carrying it on me compulsively wherever I go, and possibly even leaving it turned off outside of set periods. My phone is primarily responsible for the fact that literally every moment of my waking day holds the potential for something new and exciting and interesting and distracting to enter my life from the great wide electronic world, or for me to share something with that world in return, so it’ll be a fun experiment to see how much I can realistically scale back its use until it starts to have a clear negative impact on my quality of life.
  • Out of necessity, I’ll be further streamlining my current system of information consumption to focus even more tightly on low-volume, high-value content creators and curators who consistently provide me with information that I actually want to read—in other words, I’ll be more heavily prioritizing signal-to-noise ratio, rather than accepting a relatively high amount of noise in exchange for occasionally getting a really good bit of signal, which is what I do now. In the same spirit, going forward I’ll try to fit my future social media habits into that same mold by posting less often and being more intentional about the content of my posts. My goal will be to be able to completely process my Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds (and save any articles I want to read to Instapaper, which then get pushed to my Kindle) in 15 minutes per day, with the other 15 minutes reserved for email triage.

I hope you’ve had fun following along from home, and that you’ve found something of value in my experience that resonates for you in your life. If you’re at all interested in trying a similar experiment, streamlining your own relationship to technology, or starting to create more and consume less online, drop me a line; I’d love to help you in any way that I can. I might not get back to you right away, though :)

 

*I did, however, buy an AT&T pre-paid SIM card for one of my old feature phones, which I used as both a theoretical emergency phone—I gave the number to precisely three people, but no emergencies arose—and a repository for an IFTTT trigger that was set up to text me if I received an email back from the one outstanding job application that I had out when I started the vacation but that wasn’t triggered.

**For those of you who enjoy a good trip into the weeds occasionally, my rule of thumb is that if I can read an article in less than 10 minutes I save it to Instapaper, and all of my unread Instapaper articles get sent to my base-model Kindle as a bundle at 5 am every day, similar in structure to the New York Times Kindle edition and other publications; I tend to read those within 48 hours. If it’s a longer article, though (a lot of mine come from Longreads, Longform, and other similar Twitter accounts and weekly emails), I use Instapaper’s “Send to Kindle” bookmarklet to skip my Instapaper queue and send it directly to my Kindle…where it then generally languishes in perpetuity. 15 days ago I had 230 such articles on my Kindle, some dating back to the end of 2011 and each of which takes anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to read; from a combination of triaging and reading, I’m now down to 81.

My media diet; or, how to build the ultimate personalized information consumption system for yourself

One of my goals this year was to be more intentional about the information that I consume on a daily basis, inspired partly by Clay Johnson‘s book The Information Diet and partly by a desire to create the ultimate lean, flexible news-gathering system to replace my hitherto haphazard efforts to inform myself about the world. It’s the end of 2012 now, and I can honestly say that I’m much better informed about what’s going on in the world around me than I’ve ever been before–the purpose of this post is to open-source my 2012 methodology for anyone who’s interested in borrowing from it or improving on it.

*Note: if you’re more in the market for a media diet lite, I highly recommend Zite–click here to skip directly to that section.

MY WORKFLOW:

My basic workflow for every piece of content I interact with on a daily basis, from the New York Times to Twitter to an email newsletter, is as follows:

1. I scan it quickly
2. If I’m interested, I click through to gauge its length
3. Based on length, I do one of three things:

  • Read it immediately, if doing so would only take me a minute or two
  • Save it to Instapaper to read the next day on my Kindle, if I think it would take more than a minute or two to read
  • Send it straight to my Kindle as a standalone document, if I think it would take me more than 10 minutes to read

4. I sit down and take my time to read and enjoy anything that makes it through to my Kindle, and I only do so when I have time to relax and enjoy reading for the sake of reading.

I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour in the morning reading the Seattle Times and the New York Times on my iPad and looking through Facebook, my RSS feeds, and my email newsletters; I check Facebook and my work-related Twitter lists and RSS folders on my way to work and back and during the quick little interstitial portions of my day when I’m walking from one meeting to the next, in the elevator, etc; and I do my Instapaper reading at lunch and after work, along with catching up on anything from my high-priority queues that I missed during the day. There are two big things that I get from my workflow as it’s evolved over the course of the year: I’m able to skim a lot of carefully curated information, so even if I don’t read every article I still get a good sense of what’s happening in the areas I care about; and I also end up at the end of the day with a finished product that represents the items that are worth my taking the time to sit down and really enjoy.

MY PHYSICAL TOOLS (5):

1. Personal and work computers (both PC’s):
These are both relevant to my media diet primarily in that I use them to process articles that I receive via email. It’s worth noting, though, that I use the same Instapaper bookmarklets in all of my browsers, so my workflow for saving an article is the same whether I’m on my phone, my iPad, or either of the computers that I use.

2. iPad 2:
The iPad is by far the best way I’ve found to consume rich digital content–the larger iPad form factor is nice, but if I were buying a new tablet today I’d get an iPad Mini in a heartbeat. I tend to leave my iPad at home during the day because I identify it with relaxation.

3. iPhone 4S:
Because it’s always with me, this is my main way to process my feeds when I’m not at home. I find that I can generally keep up on Twitter and Facebook both over the course of the day just by scanning them on my phone when I’m in the elevator, walking between meetings, walking or busing back and forth from work, etc.

5. A basic, $69 Kindle:
This is by far the best way I’ve found to consume plain-text, unformatted content; when paired with Instapaper it really comes into its own. There are two Instapaper features that are vital to my system: Save to Kindle and Send to Kindle.

MY DIGITAL TOOLS (9):

1. The Seattle Times print replica iPad app:
The Seattle Times is by far the best source of local information about Seattle, and it’s highly relevant to my work for me to know what’s being covered in it and how. The print replica requires a paid subscription, but I love being able to get the full newspaper experience on my iPad every morning when I wake up, and I’m happy to support high-quality local journalism.

2. The New York Times iPad app:
I don’t have to sell you on the value of the New York Times; their iPad app is fantastic, aside from the fact that it doesn’t play well with Instapaper.

3. Lists in Twitter and Facebook and folders in Google Reader:
All of the tools that are my bread and butter today used to be totally overwhelming to me, to the point that I was either checking them randomly but still missing most of the content I really cared about (Twitter, Google Reader) or checking them occasionally but then ending up in an endless productivity black hole (Facebook) and, again, still missing most of the content that I cared about. What finally allowed me to solve my problem was subdividing and prioritizing different streams within each source–lists on Twitter and Facebook, and folders in Google Reader.

Twitter lists are most likely going to be subsets of your overall follower list, but part of their beauty is that you don’t have to follow an account to include it in a list. It’s difficult to add and remove people from mobile devices (I recommend TweetList, FWIW), but aside from that they’re pretty easy to figure out. Even if you never send a tweet in your life, I highly recommend using Twitter–it’s the most powerful and flexible tool for content curators that exists today, and there’s a whole army of people out there working around the clock to find good content and share it with anyone who’s interested. Finding the right people to follow is the trick–how often someone tweets, what they tweet about, and whether there’s another way to get the same content (e.g., do they cross-post everything they send to Twitter to Facebook also? Is there an RSS feed that gives you the same information that’s being posted to Twitter?) are the most important things to look at.

If you’re not familiar with RSS, it stands for Really Simple Syndication, and if there are specific blogs that you read on a regular basis, subscribing to their RSS feeds is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t miss any of their posts without having to manually go to each individual website and check for updates throughout the day. Google Reader is the preeminent RSS reader–it’s easy to add sources using the big blue “Subscribe” button on the left-hand side, and it’s also easy to organize your different feeds into folders, which in reality work more like tags than folders, since one item can be in as many different folders as you want. Reeder for iPad and iPhone is the best RSS reader that I’ve come across–it costs a few dollars ($2.99 for iPhone and $4.99 for iPad), but it’s worth every penny and then some. Just like with Twitter, it’ll take you awhile to figure out the right mix of sources that you want to read every day vs. sources you have the time to read every day. I organize my folders based on whether they’re primarily work-related (which I browse mostly during the day at work) or personal (which I browse only outside of work time), and then based on blogs I want to be sure I scan every day vs. others I’m OK with only looking at occasionally.

Facebook, of the three of these, is the one that lists turned from a time suck into a finite, manageable stream of information for me. If you rely on the newsfeed algorithm to serve you your Facebook world like I did (the default option), you’re allowing it to try to figure out who’s really important to you; Facebook lists are an easy way for you to decide exactly who’s important to you and to be sure that you’re seeing all of their posts, not just the ones Facebook thinks you should see. I don’t know of a way to create or edit lists from mobile devices, but it’s quick and painless from a desktop or laptop; see here for the basics. Again, it’ll take some tinkering to find the right balance, but creating a couple of lists was the best thing I ever did on Facebook.

4. Flipboard:
The best app I’ve found for browsing Twitter lists–it gives you link previews of articles and images in tweets, which keeps you from having to click on a link and wait for it to load to see what the content is, and you can favorite, retweet, and reply to tweets, save articles to Instapaper, and share links to Facebook all without leaving the app. It’s available on iOS and Android, and it’s easy to set up and sync across multiple devices.

5. Facebook for iPad and iPhone:
With the recently added ability to share posts and tag friends directly from the mobile apps, the iOS Facebook apps are the best way I’ve found to interact with your Facebook stream–browsing Facebook from my laptop seems clunky in comparison.

6. Reeder for iPad and iPhone:
The best RSS client I’ve found; see here for the iPhone download link, or here for the iPad download link.

7. Zite for iPad:
If you’re not as concerned with having a comprehensive system and you’re looking for a really easy way to get started, I highly recommend the newly redesigned Zite iOS app. It’s like a cross between Pandora and the New York Times–you connect it to your Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader accounts and tell it what you’re interested in, and then as it serves you articles you can rate them up and down, select trusted news sources to see more articles from, and easily share what you’re reading to any of the major social networks or save it to Instapaper or similar services to read later. Its setup is very similar to the New York Times iPad app, with a “Top News” section and as many topic-based sections as you want to add. The iPhone version is also good, but what sets the iPad app apart is the ability to rate articles up or down without having to open them first. When I’ve fallen behind on my feeds and I don’t feel like catching up, I spend 30 minutes with Zite and call it a day–it doesn’t catch Facebook status updates or any of the commentary from Twitter, but it does a pretty good job with everything else.

8. Email newsletters, alerts, digests, etc:
I highly recommend poking around your favorite news outlets and seeing what email subscription/alert options they have–and also asking your friends about their favorites. Here are the ones that I subscribe to:

      • New York Times breaking news updates
      • Washington Post breaking news updates
      • The Week’s daily “Top 10 things you need to know today”–this is an If This, Then That recipe, part of an incredibly useful service that I highly recommend exploring further when you have the time
      • Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDefined, a fantastic daily scan for anyone who’s interested in technology and entertainment media. It’s available via Twitter and RSS also if you prefer those formats; I found that it just drowned everything else in my queue out, which is why I like the newsletter
      • The Longreads weekly digest, a great place to find some good longer-than-10-minutes stories. Longreads, Longform, and The Feature all have good Twitter feeds for discovering similar content, too.
      • Now I Know by Dan Lewis, who gives you 2-3 truly interesting paragraphs each morning about something you’d probably never read about otherwise
      • The Economist’s Politics This Week weekly wrap-up of news from around the world
      • News.me, a great social media digest of the most-shared stories from your Twitter and Facebook networks from the previous day
      • Twitter’s similar daily digest of the most-shared stories from the people you follow on Twitter
      • Crosscut’s daily email, which previews the day’s Crosscut stories and adds in 4 or 5 good stories from around the region from the previous day’s news cycle
      • I don’t always take the time to read them, but for national political news you can’t go wrong with Mike Allen’s Playbook and Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook (go here and then sign in or create an account; it’s under “Business and Tech” for some reason)

9. Instapaper:
There are a lot of reasons to love the basic Kindle as far as I’m concerned, but none of them is as compelling for me as its high level of interoperability with Instapaper, Marco Arment‘s phenomenal read-it-later service and the backbone of my information diet in its current form. Some apps have built-in Instapaper functionality; for those that don’t, I load the article I want to save into a browser and then use one of two bookmarklets (little pieces of JavaScript that sit on your bookmarks bar but run a specific function when you click on them instead of taking you to a website) to save it for later–Read Later to send shorter articles to my Instapaper queue so that they get into my daily bundle the next morning, and Send to Kindle to send them directly to my Kindle as standalone documents.

Each morning at 5 am I get an Instapaper bundle with all of my Read Later articles that I haven’t read yet, and I can also access them anytime on the web or using one of the excellent Instapaper apps for iOS (which will also help you install the Read Later bookmarklet on your phone)–I recommend paying $1/month for a subscription so that you can get up to 50 articles per bundle, but the free version will still give you 10. Articles that I send straight to the Kindle using the Send to Kindle bookmarklet appear immediately.

See here for more information on setting up bundles (and scroll further down for the “Send to Kindle” bookmarklet), or see here for the normal “Save to Instapaper” bookmarklet and your unique email address for sending articles to your Instapaper queue. If you’re looking for more bookmarklets, this page has a great list that includes both of the Instapaper ones that I use, along with more for sharing to Facebook and Twitter, loading the cached version of a web page, and shortening URLs, among other things. It’s an especially useful page if you’re having trouble getting the bookmarklets into your mobile web browser.

A MEDIA DIET OF ONE’S OWN:

So that’s my system; I hope it’s helpful. As you’re thinking about your own, it’s important to note the strengths of each source of information you’re relying on. For example, I’ve found that Twitter’s strength is giving me access to a wide network of curators who find things I would never find on my own; Facebook is best for keeping up with personal updates from people I care about; RSS is the best way to make sure I don’t miss anything from the sources that are really important to me; the Seattle Times is still the best single source I’ve found for local information about Seattle, and the New York Times is the same for national and international news; and email newsletters and alerts are a great way to proactively get information pushed to me and also archive key moments from all of my other feeds in case I fall behind, not to mention that some of my feeds only exist as newsletters.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Any questions or feedback you have are always welcome.