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How To Force Yourself To Read On The Internet

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There’s a severe psychological struggle that’s been created by the web and particularly amplified by social media. The mental rewards we receive for sharing what we’re reading have become stronger than the act of actually reading. Basically this:  

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Is your day composed of reading 10% of 100 articles or 100% of 10 articles? Here are some tools you can use to keep yourself from constantly bouncing away from really good content. 

Stay Focused: One of the primary reasons our attention gets pulled away from our online reading is constant stream of notifications, dings, and emails coming from social media sites like Facebook. StayFocused let’s you actually block or limit yourself from spending too much time on these types of sites. For example I use StayFocused to ensure I don’t use Facebook more than 10 minutes per day. Every time I visit the site or click on a link that I found coming from my feed, the counter starts. When time runs off, the site is blocked for a 24 hour period. It’s a pretty drastic step I took to condition myself to stop wasting time going through the vicious loop social sites can create.

Buffer Browser Extension: Rather than posting a link to Twitter or Facebook immediately, Buffer lets you neatly schedule links in advance and it also spaces everything out so you’re not sending a barrage of tweets in a short period of time. You might be wondering, “How does a social media sharing tool make me more likely to read content?” Well there’s a psychological factor at play here: The removal of a sense of urgency. Buffer is just one example of a tool that does this but scheduling is the core of this tactic. Instead of leaving the article your’e reading to think of a clever tweet RIGHT NOW, you can schedule it from the page you’re already on, and change it later. Small change of process, but hugely helpful in keeping you from straying further down the rabbit hole of the internet. 

Pocket Browser Extension: Again, there are many tools that do the same thing as this app, but in my opinion, this is one of the best save-it-for-later tools out there. When we see links on Facebook or Twitter we don’t necessarily know if they’re long or short. If you happen to come across a great article in the middle of the workday, you may not have time to read it. Therefore you close the tab and it’s gone forever. With something like Pocket, you have the opportunity to save it for later and read it in a distraction free environment. Not only that, this is yet another psychological hack where you’re using a tool that forces you to think about whether or not a piece of content is worth your time. Ultimately this tool helps you reduce time filtering and spend more reading. 

One-Tab: Browser tabs are like babies. They’re cute and offer endless joy, but they also constantly take your attention and make you scramble to the next thing. If you’re like me, your browser probably has no less than 10 tabs open at a time. (Not only do I have 10 tabs open, but I have 3 browsers open at a time with 10 tabs each). For work, this can be a useful way to quickly access all my apps and websites, but when I’m reading this is completely awful. If you come across an article you truly want to read, I suggest compiling all your tabs using something like One Tab. It will store all your previously opened tabs, and then when you’re ready to get back to business it will restore all of them.

Noisli: “HEY BRO HOW WAS YOUR MEETING?” - That’s just one of the many loud conference call discussions you might be listening to if you work in a public area like a coworking space. Personally I find it difficult to read when I’m hearing dialogue, but I also have trouble when listening to music with lyrics. Ultimately my brain gets distracted when more than one set of works are going in or out of my processing center. So a great solution I’ve found is Noisli. It lets you put on your Apple Beats By Dre to tune out the annoying loud talkers in your vicinity and listen to tranquil sounds that don’t suck you in too much. 

What tools or tactics do you use to help yourself be a less fickle online reader? 

By Len Kendall - CoFounder of CentUp.org

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Unique Embeddable Media Makes Your Content Sing

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Embedding videos or images into a blog post is pretty standard procedure these days. It’s a great way to make your content more engaging, but don’t forget to explore the limits of media you can pull into your site. While everyone else is sharing YouTube videos, here are a few examples of unique formats to keep your eye on. 

Interactive: Patatap

Patatap is a mesmerizing project that turns your keyboard into a sound board. Every letter from A to Z creates a unique sound and respective on-screen graphic (click on the box above and start hitting letters). While it’s not even close to professional DJ’s set up, it’s pretty darn impressive for something that runs completely in a web browser. I personally spent 5 minutes playing with this tool, there’s no reason I wouldn’t do the same had I found it embedded on a blog I was reading. For music and/or design writers, this is a prime example of an embed that would catch your reader’s attention.

Narration: Soundcloud

If you’re like me, you have a problem reading a full article without skipping around. Lately I’ve actually turned to listening to articles instead of reading them since it helps me sit through the entire piece. The above Soundcloud file was embedded on this article I wrote for The Next Web. It’s a really nice touch that gives your readers an alternative format to consume your content. While not everyone has time to record an audio version of every post, you certainly should consider it for your most popular and timeless pieces. 

Social: Tweets

Tweets are a unique beast. Some news publications today write entire articles just analyzing a series of tweets from an expert in a given field. For your own writing, embedded tweets can be used in a couple of ways. First, if you have an important announcement, you can embed your own tweet in a blog post to encourage more people to easily share it on Twitter. Alternatively, you can use tweets from other people to serve as quotes. Prior to embeddable tweets people simple included “quotes from experts in their text like this.” Now, you can attribute a statement far more easily.

Maps: Google Maps

Location Location Location. While map tools are commonly used by most modern web users today, you can use embedded files in unique ways to save your readers time. Let’s say for example you’re an art critic looking to share your tip 10 favorite galleries in the city. One option would be to make a simple list with links and addresses. A far more engaging alternative would be to use a custom map that marks those 10 locations off on a map you’ve created. 

What interesting embeddable media have you encountered lately? Please share your suggestions in the comments section of this post.

By Len Kendall - CoFounder of CentUp.org

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Writing Short

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Being able to crisply condense your thoughts is far more useful beyond the walls of Twitter. In our current age of low attention spans and infinite distractions, being able to quickly convey information and captivate attention is a necessary skill for any creator. 

Whether you’re blogging, writing a script for a video, or pitching a potential partner via email, brevity is something you need to master. 

The following are just a few tactics to keep in mind when trying to shave down the length of your writing:

Cut. Cut. Cut. Never use the first sentence you wrote.

99% of the time, the first sentence you write is longer than it needs to be. Find ways to remove unnecessary details. Look for symbols that can replace words. The medium you’re using might dictate the structure of your sentences, but always look for ways to turn multiple words into one. 

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Use dense descriptors

Having a good vocabulary isn’t about using words like “adumbrate” or “garrulous,” it’s about being able to find words that can replace many others. Keyword density helps your save your reader time while downloading information into their brains via their eyes. (That’s a nerdy way to explain what’s happening). 

In the example below, there were far more details that could have been mentioned in the short story, but by only including certain words, the rest of the story is revealed. Saying “bike” explains why the gentleman was sweaty. “Questionably sober” reveals an image of a person with an altered state of mind. Whether from movies or real-life experiences, a reader can paint their own picture based on a just a mention of some specific items.

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Nudge people to search for context

Depending on what you’re writing about, tap into the power of google search to help tell the rest of the story for you. If there’s an extremely popular news story making waves, you can be somewhat vague with your writing. Sure, you don’t necessarily want to drive people away from your site to go search for something, but creating a miniature treasure hunt with your words can also intrigue people enough to keep them from leaving you altogether from disinterest. 

In the example below, it’s obvious that “Microsoft” is the subject of the sentence. A simple search for them will reveal the news story presented in the screenshot.

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Evoke Common Situations

Metaphor is an obvious way to turn a lot of words into a few, but take that even further and think about your audience. If you’re writing something for business professionals who are over the age of 25, they likely can related to the scenario below.

By using two common nouns (Tetris and Calendar) not only does this sentence accomplish its goal of explaining that the narrator has a busy schedule, but it does so in a much less boring way that may help the reader relate and even smile at the all-too-common situation.

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Homework: Read Microstyle by Christopher Johnson. The book is far more comprehensive look at many of the above principles.

By Len Kendall - CoFounder of CentUp.org

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Tools That Help You And The World

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The “buy 1 give 1” model has become a popular trend for young companies (and especially among the wallets of the Millennial generation). TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker are two of the most famous examples, but they are tied to physical products. What if your want to spend your money with online tools/services that also build social good into their model?

GoodSearch — Everyday activities like searching the web, playing online games, shopping, dining out and more are turned into charitable donations.

It kind of stinks when you feel guilted into making donations to charity. It’s so much better when it gets wrapped up into activities you’re already doing and purchases you’re already making. There are billions of internet searches happening each day. Might as well apply that inquisitive spirit for good.

SwipeGood — Tons of online services let you “round up” your purchases to give to charity, but Swipegood lets you do it for ALL your purchases.

Not only does SwipeGood round up all of your debit or credit card purchases to the nearest dollar, but it also allows you to donate the difference to the charity of your choice, not the one being supported by the merchant. Obviously there are tons of great causes that exist, but you probably want to support your own favorite right? Even Ashton Kutcher thinks they’re cool.

Greatest Good — A platform where smart people can buy the time of other smart people. Instead of paying the expert for her time, the money goes to the consultant’s favorite charity.

The motivation behind Greatest Good is to solve what it calls the “inefficiency of the volunteerism economy,” where the financial value of an individual’s time is often worth much less in the volunteering world than in their professional world. That said, people want to do more than write a check. Greatest Good enables these professionals to provide advice and consulting around their specific areas of expertise to the businesses and individuals that seek it.

Samasource — Instead of using something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Samasource delivers digital services through a unique Microwork model that uses the untapped potential of the world’s poor.

Unlike other “microworker” systems, Samasource is a non-profit and therefore its mission of alleviating poverty outshines a need to generate profits. For startups and young businesses that don’t have the money or technical talent to automated tedious processes, this is a fantastic network for finding efficiencies and supporting those in need.

At CentUp, we’re proud to build social good into our system. The above items are just a handful of examples, but hopefully this list sets you on the path to finding socially conscious companies to be patrons of. They can help both you, as well as communities around the world. What tools do you use to boost your efficiency or visibility online?

By Len Kendall - CoFounder of CentUp.org

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Will Your Project Go Viral? A Transparent Case Study

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In a perfect world, everything we put out on the web would be a huge hit. In reality, that isn’t the case. There are tons of blog posts offering tips on “how to improve your chances of going viral” or “what not to do,” but Instead of going that route, here’s a real world case study. Vague advice is ok, actual examples are better.

Context: The CentUp team produced two different web experiments in the last couple of months. One went viral, the other didn’t.

Project 1 (Viral Sensation): Headlines Against Humanity

Project 2 (Not a Hit): Valentines.gov

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Observations and Insights from these two projects

1) Manage expectations. We set the bar insanely high with Headlines Against Humanity. In hopes of creating an ongoing series of web stunts, we didn’t think the first one was going to be so successful. The fact that it was has now distorted what we want to achieve each time we do something new. Valentines Dot Gov only got 7,000 hits. Not bad for a day, but pretty mediocre compared to the 70,000 we earned from our first project. As we look to our third act, our expectations have been properly realigned. As you think about your own upcoming launches, assume the first will do poorly and do not let that dissuade you from producing more in the future. Expect that your first release fails and that it will help you improve your next iteration more quickly. Our first project didn’t teach us a ton because we “won” that battle. People do most of their critical analysis when they lose.

2) Real Time Marketing isn’t your friend. In terms of timing, we constrained ourselves way too much. First of all, Valentine’s Day is only one day. The project wasn’t timeless, and therefore we had to rush to get press while also competing against other people trying to promote their own V-Day shenanigans. With Headlines, we didn’t suffer from either of these issues because it would have been funny at any time. Secondly, because we decided on a Valentine’s theme, we had to launch this product on a Friday. For those of you that haven’t worked in public relations, FRIDAY IS A TERRIBLE DAY TO LAUNCH ANYTHING. The news cycle is dead, and people are already thinking about the weekend (including reporters). There’s been a huge surge in interest from marketers in real-time marketing. It certainly can work for a cheap hit, but if you’re trying to promote your work in a lasting way, you need to tap into cultural memes that go beyond a day or two.

3) Cerebral humor doesn’t get shared often. The reason that so many Buzzfeed links get passed along frequently is because they’re really dumb. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way (after all, I used them to propose to my wife), but rather in the sense that they don’t take much deep thought to understand. They’ve mastered the repeatable methodology of making something “viral” by sticking with humor that is funny within seconds. With VdotGov, we went for the long punchline. First you had to realize that we parodied a famous national website (Healthcare.gov) then you had to go through the quiz to get more humorous copywriting. Every single second longer it takes for someone to grasp an idea online decreases its share-ability exponentially. This is why you don’t see a lot of viral videos featuring Bill Maher.

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Tying Relevance into your Writing

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Here’s the reality we face today: When people are seeking out content on the web, they’re looking for “what’s new.” It doesn’t matter that there’s a virtually infinite amount of timeless reading available (99.9% of which they have never seen), we’ve been conditioned to seek freshness. Twitter and Facebook have pushed us all towards wanting to be the “first” to share something, and because of that our attention skews towards new.

At CentUp we value “old news” a lot, but also realize that many writers seek timely content to weave into their latest posts to keep new readers coming. If that’s the route you want to go, here are a few tools that may help you stay “on trend.” 

Rad URLS

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Facebook and Twitter are critical vehicles for helping any single piece of content trend online. RadURLS is a simple aggregator that looks at the most shared links on both networks and updates the list every 15 minutes. Is this feed going to show you the best content online? Probably not. Will it show you what’s the most relevant at the moment? Indeed it will.

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