Yes, it’s boom time for the writing business. Marketing writers, UX writers, knowledge base writers and more are in high demand. There’s great writing out there and content is being created in every medium, shape and form. A myriad of blogs, newsletters and essays are published by the hour.
How does one keep track of the best articles? Glad you asked! Read our periodic posts where we’ll try to curate the most interesting, relevant or simply engaging articles we came across. They say content is king, but in our case, we seek to make context our queen.
You know it’s been a good week for writers and editors when actress Emma Watson tweets that she’s looking for a proofreader. No need to polish up your resumes just yet; the British Harry Potter star was merely addressing fans who spotted an embarrassing typo on a temporary tattoo on her arm. Watson showed up at one of Hollywood’s Oscar parties wearing a “Times Up” tattoo, in honor of the anti-sexual harassment campaign. As reported by Elle, after discovering that she’d missed an apostrophe, Watson tweeted: “Fake tattoo proofreading position available. Experience with apostrophes a must.” Go on and retweet, proofreaders!
A newspaper in Japan has created an AI system that writes summaries of their articles. The Splice Newsroom reported that the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s oldest dailies, built a software program that generates these summaries faster and more accurately than its real, live journalists. The software was modeled on a dataset of 2,500 newspaper articles, as well as their manually-compiled summaries, eventually creating an ‘important sentence extraction model’ as well as a ‘sentence-shortening model.’
The Japanese daily isn’t the first publication to use machine-learning technologies. According to the Splice, The Associated Press has also worked with AI-led software to cover earning reports.
While Product or Marcom writing is a different kettle of fish, there are many common denominators to consider. The essence of writing is stringing words together into engaging, contextual and stimulating pieces, and unless you’re writing the next Ulysses, you’ll probably be working under strict time or length constraints. As writers, should we be concerned about the risks that AI poses to our profession? Probably, but we can also find solace in the AP’s explanation, as quoted by the Splice. “With the freed-up time, AP journalists are able to focus on more user-generated… or complex stories.”
A post in Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson’s blog contributed to this discussion. Wilson publishes a daily blog about investments, technology, content, U.S. politics and a great deal more. A few weeks ago, he was asked about prioritizing the content he consumes. As word-addicts, web bingers and – above all – as writers, we constantly think about separating the wheat from the chaff. We found Wilson’s answer inspiring:
“I do not allow technology to drive what content I consume…maybe someday technology will be able to do for me what humans can do, but today it is the exact opposite. Technology shows me things I already know about. Humans show me things I don’t know about.”
The winter Olympics are over and in addition to the world records in cross country skiing and the ice dancing extravaganza, one story attracted our attention. NBC reported about a grocery order for Norway’s Olympic team that was lost in translation. The camp’s chefs ordered from a local Korean store using Google Translate. When the truck pulled up at the Norwegian camp, it turned out that a translation error converted their order of 1,500 eggs into 15,000 eggs.
We fact checked the story:
We entered the egg order into Google Translate, and the number came out right. So how did this happen? The Guardian solved part of the mystery, explaining that South Korean has a “complex counting system, which employs different systems for different purposes.” Restaurants, added the Guardian, buy eggs in multiples of 30, but changing one syllable would mean the difference between 1,500 and 15,000. In case you were wondering, the Korean grocers took the leftover eggs back.
Sunny side up for Korean customer service; Sunny side down for translation bots!
A new analytics tool, released by Apple in late 2017, proves that contrary to the industry’s concerns, podcasts are on the rise. Listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few fans skip the ads, Wired reported, quoting media company Midroll’s data. Other media companies, using Apple’s analytics tool, have reported similar numbers.
These numbers bode well for the content community, and even more so for advertisers. “It’s likely that these high engagement rates and low levels of ad-skipping will see a flood of new advertisers who have until now been reticent to enter the Wild West of podcasting,” wrote Wired.
On the other end of the attention spectrum stand smiling (or crying, frowning, or dancing) 157 new emojis, due to be released later this year to a mobile phone near you. Business Insider got a glimpse of some of these emojis and we were left, well, speechless. Move over, Munch’s Scream, here come the abacus, a redhead, a roll of paper and a kangaroo. In what context would an abacus emoji be used? We’ll have to wait until the fall to find out.
More on the emoji front: TechCrunch reported that Bitmoji, the app that allows users to create a cartoon-ish version of themselves, released a new version to help you customize your avatar with 40 skin tones, 50 hair colors, 50 hair treatment options and much more. The Bitmoji Deluxe is a more configurable version of the avatars, “that embraces the growing diversity of its users,” wrote TechCrunch.
This new feature isn’t just about a smiling avatar. Letting users pick a skin tone or a hairstyle that mirrors their actual appearance indicates a shift in the importance of diversity in the media. The understanding that the industry should represent the way real people look – rather than dictate how they should look – is growing fast, and that’s just great. So, whether you’re choosing an image or writing in a gender-specific language, the road to better exposure and higher engagement rates goes through diversity.
Nicole Fenton, co-author of Nicely Said, joined the product team at Vox last month. Fenton started her career as an Apple support rep, moved on to process development, and then to web content and content strategy. In a Q&A session published on Medium, she discussed writing and content in the 21st century. Some of her answers will continue to resonate with many of us.
“As content designers, we only have so much control over the direction a business or product team decides to take. Set aside time to build and maintain working relationships — and keep those connections alive with ongoing communication”.
Asked for her advice for “aspiring content designers,” Fenton’s first tip is priceless.
“Read a lot! There’s so much out there. I keep a list of resources as a starting point. Study up on web writing, research, user-experience design, accessibility, and ethics. And don’t stop there!”
This month, the web paid tribute to John Perry Barlow, poet (The Grateful Dead), Internet pioneer, philosopher and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Barlow died in February leaving dozens of essays, lectures and Dead lyrics. Dubbed as “The Bard of the Internet,” Barlow became a leading voice in technology, albeit he had no background in engineering. He was able, wrote Wired’s Steven Levy, to explain cryptography to a room full of bankers. “Barlow was one of the first to understand that, in an information economy, value is driven not by scarcity but by familiarity, the Guardian wrote.
If you share our passion for writing, engagement and content, it is worthwhile listening to Barlow’s TED talk from 2011, in which he spoke about the right to know.
“When I got online, I thought this is it….what this thing might do is make it possible, one day, and this is a time I suppose, there weren’t a million people that had email addresses, but I could see that one day, everybody on the planet would assemble in a space that will be created by these machines collectively wired together and that all of these people would be endowed, if things work right, the right and indeed the ability to say whatever is in their hearts so that anybody else on that planet could hear it.”
As writers, we should try to do just that.
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