One-Minute Book Reviews

April 25, 2010

‘Write a Blog Post That Took Weeks of Reflection’ – Quote of the Day / Jaron Lanier in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:04 pm
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Virtual-reality frontiersman Jaron Lanier argues that sites like Twitter and Wikipedia are fostering the spread of collective views that drown out individual voices. How can you maintain a credible presence in cyberspace without becoming swept up in what he and other experts call the “hive mind”?

Here are three suggestions from Lanier’s new You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 209 pp. $24.95):

“Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.”

“Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.”

“Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.”

December 8, 2009

WordPress Apparently Hacked Last Night

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:22 am
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[Update: WordPress Support sent me an e-mail message saying that last night's problems didn't result from a hacking but from a "small server glitch." I'm leaving leave post this up, anyway, both because we have to take WP's word for that "server glitch" and because you might still want to change your password.]

Many people reported having trouble logging on to their WordPress.com blogs, which were apparently hacked, last night on Twitter.  Some WP bloggers — of whom I was one — were redirected repeatedly to an unfamiliar site when they tried to log on. Others reported being hacked without saying why they thought their security had been compromised.

Some of the victims posted warnings on Twitter along the lines of: “Change Your Password NOW.” If you want to change your password, go to “My Account” (in the bar above the logo for your site), then go to “My Profile” or “Edit Profile.” At the bottom of your “Profile” page, you’ll see two blank spaces where you can type in your new password, then click “Update.”

One lesson of this slightly unnerving experience was that it helps to be on Twitter if you have trouble on a blog, because you can find out right away whether others are having similar problems: Search Twitter for “WordPress” (or “Blogger” or “Typepad”) and see if others are describing the same issues. WordPress also has a Twitter address, and you can try sending a message there. This brought quicker response than I’ve usually had by going to the WordPress Forums or sending an e-mail message to WordPress Support.

I believe I’ve solved the problem here and everything is fine — unless you were redirected to a suspicious site repeatedly when you tried to get to this one …

September 6, 2009

5 Ways Not to Begin a Blog Post — ‘Loser Leads’ Nobody Needs

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 am
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Nobody dumps Gatorade on the writing coaches at newspapers who try to help reporters turn out sparkling prose as the apocalypse looms. But Jack Hart, a former managing editor at the Oregonian, seems to have deserved that treatment.

Hart drew on decades of working with reporters for his exemplary A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work (Anchor, 304 pp., $13.95, paper), a book that seeks to demystify a dozen aspects of good writing — clarity, brevity, voice, color, structure, rhythm and more. And some of his advice would have no less value for bloggers, novelists and corporate memo-writers.

Take Hart’s section on “loser leads,” soporific first sentences that risk turning an entire story into a cliché. Dick Thein, a copyediting expert, compiled list of offenders, or emaciated beginnings that won’t help a post or short story or any more than a newspaper article.

Hart quotes some of them:

The ‘good news, bad news’ lead:
“The good news is that online classes have begun. The bad news is that most students don’t have computers.

The ‘that’s what’ lead:
“Some leads are easier to write than others. That’s what 15 reporters participating in an online seminar said Monday.

The ‘thanks-to’ lead:
“Thanks to Bug Pagel, the supermarket chain considers customer convenience first and sales second.

The one-word lead (variation of ‘that’s what’):
“Cynical.
“That’s what most people think journalists are.

“The ‘I fooled you’ lead:
“Sex, drugs, and booze. That’s not what you’ll find in newsrooms today, said Kent Clark, managing editor of the Metropolis Daily Planet.

A Writer’s Coach has ten pages on loser and other leads, and the rest of the book is similarly direct and useful. An excerpt from the introduction appears on the Anchor Books site.

What lead would you like to see journalists and bloggers lose?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda and www.janiceharayda.com

May 19, 2009

A Set of Ethical Standards for Freelance Writers and the Editors Who Hire Them in the Age of Blogs and Other Forms of Digital Technology

The following comments are off-message for me, but I’m posting them because they relate to a core principle of One-Minute Book Reviews: This site doesn’t accept free books from editors, publishers, authors, agents or others with a stake in those books. The FAQ page explains why, and the article mentioned below provides context for its comments. Jan

If you’re a freelance writer, do you tell editors when you have sources of income from (or are applying for jobs) that relate to work you’re doing for them? Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, thinks you should. Wasserman tells the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in an article called “Keeping It Honest in a Freelance World”:

“Among the big changes the news business is undergoing is a steady erosion of its fundamental reliance on full-time, salaried journalists. What’s emerging in its place is an industry built on a patchwork of different working relationships. …

“What’s emerging is essentially the Op-Ed model moved from the opinion pages to the news: A growing dependence on journalism from loosely affiliated outsiders. The typical news site will have a small editorial nucleus at the center of an orbital sphere of contributing reporters, videographers, commentators and analysts. …

“There’s good reason not to welcome this. It means journalists will be paid even worse. It means coverage is likely to suffer from further loss of consistency and coherence, not to mention expertise.

“And it replaces the clarity of loyalty, obligation and independence that went with the traditional employment model with something that’s potentially very different. Remember that the Op-Ed pages have often been little more than an ethical bordello, with editors making scant effort to learn, much less police, the various entanglements that commentators might have with the topics they hold forth on.”

Wasserman lists seven ethical principles that editors should follow when assigning work to freelancers (and that, by implication, freelancers should follow when working for them). These include:

“Require internal disclosure. These disclosures should be comprehensive: All sources of income over the previous 12 months and all pending efforts to secure other paid work. (After all, you don’t want to post what seems like journalism but later turns out to have been an employment application.) Dollar amounts aren’t necessary; it’s the relationships that corrupt, not how lucrative they are. Require people to characterize those relationships—you don’t want anybody repaying favors on your site, but you also don’t want them settling scores. Disclosure should go beyond mere names. The range of some entity’s client relationships in town could implicate a number of other areas a particular journalist should steer clear of.”

Wasserman is on the money about about all of this, and though he doesn’t say so directly, his comments have implications for online book-review sites, many of which have ties to publishers that are undisclosed or disclosed only by implication (for example, in the form of ads for books placed next to rave reviews of them or sycophantic profiles of their authors).

March 9, 2009

Daylight Savings Time Problems on WordPress?

Filed under: News,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 am
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I’m about to try to post a review of Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller The Help that was written earlier but I can’t proofread because of a malfunction on WordPress that does not appear to be limited to my site. The problem occurred on Sunday and may relate to the switch to Daylight Savings Time in the United States. But I haven’t been able to get information from the WordPress support (either by e-mail or from the Support Forums) on how to correct this, so I may make changes in the forthcoming post later in the day. Thanks so much for your patience.

Jan

January 14, 2009

Where to Find Answers to Legal Questions About Blogging – ‘The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law’

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:42 pm
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How much of a poem or song can you quote on your blog? Is it okay to use your Facebook page to describe all the annoying things your co-worker does, in enough detail that people will recognize her, if you don’t use her name? If another Web site libels someone and you repeat the offending material on yours, could you get sued?

A good place to look for answers is The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law ($18.95, Basic Books, 432 pp., paperback), edited by Norm Goldstein — specifically, its media-law section with chapters on many topics that apply to bloggers, including copyright, privacy, and defamation (which generally includes both libel and slander).

The legal portions of The AP Stylebook have two advantages over much of the similar material you can find on the Web. First, they have a reader-friendly – that is, nonlawyerly – tone. Second, they cover the major areas that apply to Web content producers and give clear examples of things that can get you into trouble.

The copyright-law section of my 2000 edition notes, for example, that “no mathematical formula” can tell you whether the text you want to use from a poem or song amounts to “fair use.” The stylebook instead offers four general guidelines that apply to quotation. One says that any use that decreases the potential market value of the copyrighted work tends not to be fair: “For instance, if a literary critic reproduces all five lines of a five-line poem, the potential market value of the poem will be diminished because any reader of the critic’s piece can obtain a copy of the poem for free.”

The book also notes that crediting a source doesn’t turn an infringement into fair use. If you have questions, all of the contents are available by subscription to a searchable online database.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

December 30, 2008

A Review of ‘WordPress for Dummies’ — A ‘Certified WordPress Evangelist’ Tells How to Use the World’s Most Popular Blogging Software

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 am
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Is it worth it for WordPress.com bloggers to pay $25 for a book that has 50 pages for them when, at the same 50 cents-a-page rate, you’d pay $250 for John Grisham’s The Appeal?

WordPress for Dummies: First Edition. By Lisa Sabin-Wilson. Foreword by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. Wiley, 384 pp., $24.99, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

It’s no secret: The CIA uses WordPress. So do the New York Times, CNN and millions of other people and groups, who have made WordPress the world’s most popular blogging platform.

Spies and reporters can turn to in-house webmasters when they have trouble writing or publishing their posts. But the rest of us have to rely on the online support forums or erratic e-mail help provided by WordPress. If those don’t do the trick, there’s WordPress for Dummies, written by a blog designer who has used the software since its inception in 2003.

Lisa Sabin-Wilson notes upfront that WordPress comes in three versions or, as she calls them, “flavors”:

“Vanilla” — the free WordPress.com blogs, hosted by WordPress, that don’t require you to download software.
“Chocolate” — the free WordPress.org blogs, hosted by others, that do require you to download software.
“Neapolitan” — the WordPress MU blogs, designed for and paid for by corporations or organizations that want to have a network of blogs with same domain on one server.

These distinctions matter in part because WordPress for Dummies has about 50 pages for WordPress.com bloggers and more than 300 for WordPress.org or WordPress MU users. If you use WordPress.com and buy this book for $25, you’ll pay about 50 cents a page for the material written specifically for you, much of it unnecessary because you’ll know, say, how to log in. (At that rate, you’ pay about $250 for John Grisham’s 496-page The Appeal.) You’ll also get a book published in November 2007 and based on WordPress 2.3. Many of its facts went out of date with the launch of 2.7 and new features such as polling and a revised dashboard or changes in other functions.

You can’t blame Sabin-Wilson for the WordPress upgrades, many of which will appear in the second edition of the book due out in February 2009. But she calls herself a “Certified WordPress Evangelist,” and you’d better believe her: Sabin-Wilson earns part of her living “providing design solutions for WordPress clients.” And she’s so bullish that her book is less objective than some — maybe most — in the “For Dummies” series: At times, it reads like a public relations vehicle for WordPress. Sabin-Wilson offers only one timid criticism in her WordPress.com section: The software has redundant categories widgets, a point so trivial you could blog for years and never notice it.

Clearly a book called WordPress for Dummies is going to attract a lot of people who are just getting started with WordPress.com blogs. And what’s the first thing most beginners want to know about? All together now: Support, a subject that gets a barebones discussion made worse by a flawed index (usually compiled by someone other than the writer).

Look under “Support” in the index, and you’ll find listings only for support for WordPress.org and WordPress MU, leaving the misimpression that none exists for WordPress.com. Look under “WordPress.com,” and you’ll find a listing for “Support” that refers you to a page that mentions support for problems with widgets only. Look under “Help” and you’ll finally find the correct section. But you get no explanation for why WordPress calls support for WordPress.org “support” for and support for WordPress.com “help.” And the pages that deal with WordPress.com “help” have only a skimpy table that refers you first and inadequately to the WordPress.com Forums (which make you choose from a list topics that can seem impenetrable if you have no idea which technical terms apply to your problem).

If all of this seems confusing, that’s the point. Imagine going through this search process when you can’t publish a post or think you’ve lost a big chunk of vital text. At the very least, this book needs more advice how to search the WordPress forums. Better still, there should be a smaller-sized (and lower-priced) guide just for WordPress.com bloggers so you don’t have to pay for all the advice you can’t use.

Given all of this, why would you pick up WordPress for Dummies at all? First, it was more useful than the older and more profusely illustrated WordPress 2: Visual Quick Start Guide (Peachpit, 2006). As outdated and cheerleader-ish as much of it is, WordPress for Dummies has a lot of material that’s still current and helpful. Until now I’ve never filled in the title-and-description bar that appears when you upload images to a post: Why bother if it takes time and people can’t see it? This book gave me a reason to start: It helps with search engine optimization.

WordPress for Dummies also corrected a few misimpressions I’ve had almost since starting One-Minute Book Reviews. Early on, I learned that if you want to convert a URL to a hyperlink, you add the prefix http:// and a slash for a suffix. So if I wanted to link to my site for my novels, I would type http://www.janiceharayda.com into a post, select that address, and paste http://www.janiceharayda.com/ into the link box, which would create a highlighted hyperlink that looked like this www.janiceharayda.com. This technique got you to the right place but led to many long links.

From WordPress for Dummies I learned that you can just select a word or phrase and paste a link to it into the link box on the toolbar. This will put the HTML tag around the text that will create a highlighted hyperlink to a URL. So instead of writing out the address for my other site, I can select my name and paste the address into link box so you can click on Janice Harayda instead of www.janiceharayda.com. This tip will make my life easier — and my site cleaner — every day and might alone have justified time I spent with the book. It also suggests why, in a sense, World Press for Dummies is just like WordPress: When it’s not driving you up a cyberwall, it’s great.

Best line: “If you don’t want to share a picture of yourself in fear of shattering computer monitors worldwide, you can choose not to upload any picture at all or upload a picture of something that reflects the essence of you.”

Worst line: All of the lines that are outdated or that buy heavily in WordPress jargon, such as WordPress.com is a “hosted solution”; WordPress.org is “self-hosted solution” and WordPress MU is a “multiuser solution.” Whatever happened to the words “option” or “service”?

Published: November 2007. Second edition due out in February 2009.

Furthermore: Gung-ho as it is, this book oddly ignores some of great WordPress.com tools that apparently far surpass those of Blogger, Typepad and other platforms. Among them: stats are updated every three minutes.

About the author: Sabin-Wilson’s personal blog is Just a Girl in the World. Mullenweg’s is Ma.tt.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has written the One-Minute Book Review blog on WordPress.com since October 2006. She was named one of Virtual Woman’s Day’s 25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008. One-Minute Book Reviews has ranked among the top 10 growing Blogs of the Day on Word Press and appears on Best of the Web’s list of best book-review sites. It has received praise from around the world, most recently in the print and online editions of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper on Nov.17, 2008.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 8, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – The Most Important Thing Every Blogger Needs to Know (Quote of the Day / Aaron Brazell)

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:29 am
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Tonight I was going to wrap up my report on WordPress’s New York WordCamp 2008 by writing about what the speakers said about marketing your blog and using video on WordPress. But in going over my notes, I realized that I had too much material about these for one post, so I’m going to save some of it for later this week or early next week.

For now I’ll just quote perhaps the most memorable line of the Sunday meeting, which came from Aaron Brazell, the editor of the popular Technosailor www.technosailor.com, in his talk on “Making It Into the Big Leagues”:

“Remember that readers don’t care about you – they care about what you can give them.”

Brazell didn’t say that is the important thing every blogger needs to know – only that it’s vital to moving beyond the long tail — but what point comes close to this one? (Does anybody care what the creators of I Can Has Cheezeburger? think about the bailout en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can_Has_Cheezburger%3F?) Thanks for the reminder, Aaron.

You’ll find more WordCamp New York at wordcamp.info/2008/10/05/october-2008-upcoming-wordcamps/ and on the New York WordPress Meetup at wordpress.meetup.com/169/calendar/8858860/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 6, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – FBI and CIA Bloggers Use WordPress and Other Things I Learned at New York WordCamp 2008

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:27 pm
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This is Part I of an interview with Jan Harayda, a journalist and the editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews, about yesterday’s New York WordCamp. Part II will appear on “Late Night With Jan Harayda” on Tuesday night. It will deal with bread-and-butter topics covered at WordCamp, such as how to market your blog and use video on WordPress.

WordCamp started at 9:30 on a beautiful Sunday morning in New York. Did anybody show up?
O, ye of little faith! About 100 of us spent more than 8 hours in a conference room at Sun Microsystems in midtown. Well before the day ended, some of the bloggers announced that they had found a bar where people could continue their education in the finer points of WordPress after hours. Those of us who had to catch buses back to New Jersey never found out how many were sober when their training was complete. Clearly WordCamp was a success.

A hundred people on a Sunday morning? Was WordCamp, like, free?
It cost $30. But that got you bagels and Danish for breakfast and a sack lunch: a sandwich, salad, fruit, and an oversized chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie. And we got some nice stretchy orange-and-brown WordPress T-shirts that, so they would fit you even if you ate a lot of the mini cherry pastries at breakfast.

Why do you think so many people showed up for WordCamp?
I’ll quote Matt Mullenweg ma.tt/about/, founding developer of WordPress, who dealt with that question during his keynote address: “I believe WordPress users are smarter and more attractive than the general population.”

Was that Matt’s best joke?
No. Matt’s best joke was his entertaining imitation of how the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper almost got blown away while reporting on a recent hurricane. “They should get, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes,” Matt said, leaning to one side. [Note: My notes say that Matt actually said: “They should put, like, a heavier person to cover hurricanes," but my version sounds better, don't you think?]

So Matt’s jokes were the best part of WordCamp?
The best part of WordCamp was that the program had something for everybody. At least a third of the participants said that they considered themselves Web developers or designers. Most of the rest were rank-and-file bloggers like me. A few said, in effect, that they didn’t have blogs yet but had come realize that this was a tragic mistake that they planned to undo.

What did you learn about WordPress from WordCamp?
WordPress is one of the largest open-source projects on the Web along with Firefox and a few others. It has about 4 million blogs, and version 2.7 will come out in November. The most popular page among bloggers on WordPress is the stats page. The most popular plug-in is Akismet spam protection.

WordPress also offers a lot of colorful, free themes, which combine display and plug-in features and help to determine the look of your site. Unfortunately, some con artists on the Web falsely claim to offer legal alternatives to these. If you download their fake themes, they put evil codes on your site that load it with spam or worse. So if you don’t like the free WordPress themes, you should buy a Premium theme from WordPress or have somebody you trust design one for you.

Another piece of bad news was that in China censors have sometimes removed as many as 80 percent of WordPress posts.

Did anybody mention that rumor that the CIA uses WordPress?
Isn’t that fascinating? It’s true, apparently. Matt said in his speech that the U.S. government agencies that have WordPress blogs include the following: the Air Force, the Army, the CIA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security. And he wasn’t joking the way he was about Anderson Cooper and the hurricane. That so many government agencies use WordPress shows you how secure it is compared with some other blogging platforms. Will the Oval Office be next?

You’ll find more WordCamp New York wordcamp.info/2008/10/05/october-2008-upcoming-wordcamps/ and on the New York WordPress Meetup wordpress.meetup.com/169/calendar/8858860/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

Notes From WordPress’s New York Word Camp 2008 – A Comic Novelist Rates Matt Mullenweg’s Jokes Tonight on ‘Late Night With Jan Harayda’

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:48 am
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I spent most of yesterday at WordPress’s New York Word Camp 2008 and will have a few notes on what I learned tonight on “Late Night With Jan Harayda,” which will appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. This post will include an answer (from my perspective as a comic novelist) to, “What was WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg’s ma.tt/about/best joke in his keynote address?” Today’s book review will appear by 1 p.m. Monday.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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