Don’t be that guy

So yeah, you know how back in high school you had a good friend with whom you hung out with all the time and you could always rely on for a ride to the mall or to go mini-golfing?  And one day that friend found a boy or girlfriend and suddenly became as scarce as a prawn in the Sahara?  And you hated that friend for it?  And a couple of years later you did the exact same thing to your friends?

That’d be me, the fairweather friend.  My blog is my longtime buddy.  Twitter is “that chick I met at Sam the Record Man“.

A couple of my favourite bloggers (namely Shawn Elliott and Jeff Green) all but abandoned their blogs in lieu of Twitter’s seductive brevity.  These two are professional writers, tasked with filling pages with prolific verbiage on a strict deadline, who so enjoyed their craft that their cups runneth over into blog form; a haven where they cast away any shackles of limitation imposed by their respective professional voices.  Like any of us, some of what they’d post was pap, and some of it was self-righteous, but these are personalities I’ve grown to respect and so I actively seek out their opinions whether or not I expect to agree with them.  What’s significant is that they took the time to flesh out their musings into cohesive works, providing proofs and counterpoints and purple prose to papier-maché it all together into something complete and cohesive.

So what are these things, blogging and twittering?  Why does it matter which medium we choose to express ourselves?

I’ve blogged before on this topic, before the advent of Twitter.  ‘Twas a simpler time where if you had something to say, you’d create a blog and weave your verbal tapestry in your personal segregated vacuum. Or you wouldn’t.  I stand by my comments from 3 years ago that there is no right or wrong way to blog, and that creative diversity only strengthens and validates the medium.

Between blogging and twittering there are internet forums.  You’d sign up on a message board and chisel out your notoriety into an existing community, coaxing responses from other opinionated souls, surprising no one with your philosophical rigidity.  This all takes place in the public eye, or in a walled garden, but your comments are intended to be read and replied to directly.  A message board is someone else’s domain where you must abide by their rules if you want to remain welcome.

So then, Twitter.  What is it?  What isn’t it?

Maybe a more important question is, if I resent it why did I succumb to trying it?  Hell, I don’t know.  Morbid fascination?  I think I wanted to tour that elephant graveyard where my favourite bloggers went to die.

In my dabbling I’ve found Twitter to be rather infectious.  I described it once as being akin to “IMing nobody”.  If I chance upon something amusing on the web and I think to myself “I’d love to show this to… oh, he’s not online..” there’s always good ol’ Twitter to field my input.  That’s how it started – as little more than a repository for my bookmarks.  Those sneaky bastards at Twitter just knew that this would be the gateway drug.  What allows Twitter to transcend this meagre description is the ability to add just a few short words along with your hyperlinks, elevating mere parroting of references to the merest opportunity for commentary; for personality.

It’s through this tiny opportunity that I’ve been motivated to reach out to other Twitterers (I prefer to refer to us as “twats”, though it’s not catching on). Despite my (probably true) preconceptions about people who use social media services like these, I’ve chanced upon some nice, well-spoken people whose interests overlap heavily with my own.  Goodness help me, I’ve even *interacted* with these people – VERBALLY – and sometimes they even wrote me back!

Who knows what could come of such a concept!  Friendship?  Isn’t that the thing where you can amicably exchange ideas with another warm body and be satisfied to do it again some time?

As much as I felt like a lost fry in a convulsing concerto of a trillion glimmering minnows, I decided to press my luck and follow (née subscribe) a few of my respected celebrity idols (Douglas Coupland, Introversion Games, and Jonathan Mak, to name a few).  Lo and behold, I enjoy having these people’s musings delivered to me!  Sometimes I’ll brave traipsing the frozen Twitter pond and, be still my heart, actually get a reply from one of these incandescent stars!

But I digress.  I’m a selfish sod and so I tweet to my own selfish ends.  I tweet for me, and Twitter is the tool du jour for the modern publishing narcissist.

Here’s how it boils down.

I love blogging.  Doing so for the first time in 2 months reminds me of this undeniable truth.  However, I’m lazy and disorganized.  Many times I’ll find myself out in the unincorporated hinterlands of AFK, and an idea will feign formulation.  “Why, I ought to blog about that,” says I to meself.  Never happens.  Either I haven’t got enough to say about it or the fleeting figment has flitted by the time I find myself in front of a keyboard.

Not so with Twitter.  I think, I tweet, I’m done.  No proofs, no counterpoints, no purple prose.  Just the facts, ma’am.

Should another soul chance upon my tweets, all the merrier.  I’ll admit to being delighted to having as many as 8 followers, but those coattail riders will bear the brunt of my honesty because I’m tweetin’ for one.

Check me out or don’t, but try it out yourself.  Twitter is pretty damn great.  It’s no replacement for blogging (as Shawn Elliott and Jeff Green would also attest, as they do still blog intermittently), but it’s a hearty supplement for when you’re peckish for prose between blog meals.


These pretzels are making me thirsty


Click, choose, or select?

I studied Technical Writing in college where I was taught how to maintain cohesiveness and uniformity across broad collections of instructional documents. The recommended way of keeping track of terminology is to obey a style guide – a list of terms and jargon accompanied by instructions on how and how not to use it.

For all things grammatical there is little flexibility, and so it is best to follow the examples set in industry-standard style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style (for American English) or the Oxford Manual of Style (for Canadian English).

Industry-specific jargon is more recent and is used less frequently, making it unclear as to which terminology is appropriate in specific contexts. There are a few ways you can go in such an instance. You can decide ad-hoc what phrasing to use, but this runs the risk of being inconsistent compared to other documents written by yourself or your colleagues, and instructions become unclear when you set reader expectations one way and then abandon that standard. You can develop an in-house style guide which is obeyed by all writers in the organization, and this is often an acceptable choice that should work well for readers, but you still run the risk of choosing different terminology than the rest of the industry. If you’re lucky there exists an industry-specific style guide which is mutually agreed upon by the majority of similar companies as the de-facto standard.

For many years Microsoft made available its own style guide, called the “Microsoft Manual of Style” (aka MMS), freely on its web site. This guide was invaluable to technical writers by answering the age-old questions such as “click, click on, choose, select, or tick”, and “log in, log on, login, or logon”, citing usage examples for each term and substantiating its rules with cross-referenced examples and alternative contexts. Microsoft’s guide was by no means adopted by even one tenth the PC industry, but it remains the broadest and most respectable style guide. It’s a great tool to improve the ease and readability of instructional documentation for using software.

For unknown reasons Microsoft opted to remove the MMS from its website, never to return. There used to be an official print version of the book but since its cancellation it is available only at exorbitant prices. Luckily I emailed myself a copy of the MMS while it was still available so I’m happy to share it with you here!

Choose here (just kidding) to download the Microsoft Manual of Style.

(just kidding)