Shortest Post Ever

… self-indulgent though, but just to add an update on the previous post.

My new personal website is  live:

elkement.subversiv.at

I have already redirected the root URLs of the precursor sites radices.net, subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. Now I am waiting for Google’s final verdict; then I am going to add the rewrite map for the 1:n map of old ASP files and new ‘posts’. This is also the pre-requisite for informing Google about the move officially.

The blog-like structure and standardized attributes like Open Graph meta tags and a XML sitemap should make my site more Google-likeable. With the new site – and one dedicated host name only – I finally added permanent redirects (HTTP 301). Before I used temporary (HTTP 302) redirects, to send requests from the root directory to subfolders, which (so the experts say) is not search-engine-friendly.

On the other hand the .at domain will not help: You can pick a certain country as preferred audience for a non-country domain, but I have to stick with Austria here, even if the language is set to English in all the proper places (I hope).

I have discovered that every WordPress.com Tag or Category has its own feed – just add /feed/ to the respective URLs – and I will make use this in order to automate some of my link curation, like this. This list of physics postings has been created from this feed of selected postings:
https://elkement.wordpress.com/category/science-and-technology/physics/feed/
Of course this means re-tagging and re-categorizing here! Thanks WordPress for the Tags to Categories (and vice versa) Conversion Tools!

It is fun to watch my server’s log files more closely. Otherwise I would have missed that SQL injection attack attempt, trying to put spammy links on my website (into my database):

SQL injection by spammer-hackers

Random Things I Have Learned from My Web Development Project

It’s nearly done (previous episode here).

I have copied all the content from my personal websites, painstakingly disentangling snippets of different ‘posts’ that were physically contained in the same ‘web page’, re-assigning existing images to them, adding tags, consolidating information that was stored in different places. Raking the Virtual Zen Garden – again.

New website: A 'post.'

Draft of the layout, showing a ‘post’. Left and right pane vanish in responsive fashion if the screen gets too small.

… Nothing you have not seen in more elaborate fashion elsewhere. For me the pleasure is in creating the whole thing bottom up not using existing frameworks, content management systems or templates – requiring an FTP client and a text editor only.

I spent a lot of time on designing my redirect strategy. For historical reasons, all my sites use the same virtual web server. Different sites have been separated just by different virtual directories. So in order to display the e-stangl.at content as one stand-alone website, a viewer accessing e-stangl.at is redirected to e-stangl.at/e/. This means that entering [personal.at]/[business] would result in showing the business content at the personal URL. In order to prevent this, the main page generation script used checks for the virtual directory and redirects ‘bottom-up’ to [business.at]/[business].

In the future, I am going to use a new hostname for my website. In addition, I want to have the option to migrate only some applications while keeping the others tied to the old ASP scripts temporarily. This means more redirect logic, especially as I want to test all the redirects. I have a non-public test site on the same server, but I have never tested redirects as it means creating loads of test host names; but due to the complexity of redirects to come I added names like wwwdummy for every domain, redirecting to my new main test host name, in the same way as the www URLs would redirect to my new public host name.

And lest we forget I am obsessed with keeping old URLs working. I don’t like it if websites are migrated to a new content management system, changing all the URLs. As I mentioned before, I already use ASP.NET Routing for having nice URLs with the new site: A request for /en/2014/10/29/some-post-title does not access a physical folder but the ‘flat-file database engine’ I wrote from scratch will search for the proper content text file based on a SQL string handed to it, retrieve attributes from both file name and file content, and display HTML content and attributes like title and thumbnail image properly.

New website: Flat-file database.

Flat-file database: Two folders, ‘pages’ and ‘posts’. Post file names include creation date, short relative URL and category. Using the ascx extension (actually for .NET ‘user controls’ as the web server will not return these files directly but respond with 404. No need to tweak permissions.)

The top menu, the tag cloud, the yearly/monthly/daily archives, the list of posts on the Home page, XML RSS Feed and XML sitemap  are also created by querying these sets of files.

New web site: File / database entry

File representing a post: Upper half – meta tags and attributes, lower half – after attribute ‘content’: Actual content in plain HTML.

Now I want to redirect from the old .asp files (to be deleted from the server at some point in the future) to these nice URLs. My preferred solution for this class of redirects is using a rewrite map hard-coded in the web server’s config file. From my spreadsheet documentation of the 1:n relation of old ASP pages to new ‘posts’ I have automatically created the XML tags to be inserted in the ‘rewrite map’.

Now the boring part is over and I scared everybody off (But just in case you can find more technical information on the last update on the English version of all website, e.g. here) …

… I come up with my grand insights, click-bait X-Things-You-Need-To-Know-About-Seomthing-You-Should-Not-Do-and-Could-Not-Care-Less-Style:

It is sometimes painful to read really old content, like articles, manifestos and speeches from the last century. Yet I don’t hide or change anything.

After all, this is perhaps the point of such a website. I did not go online for the interaction (of social networks, clicks, likes, comments). Putting your thoughts out there, on the internet that does never forget, is like publishing a book you cannot un-publish. It is about holding yourself accountable and aiming at self-consistency.

I am not a visual person. If I would have been more courageous I’d use plain Courier New without formatting and images. Just for the fun of it, I tested adding dedicated images to each post and creating thumbnails from them – and I admit it adds to the content. Disturbing, that is!

I truly love software development. After a day of ‘professional’ software development (simulations re physics and engineering) I am still happy to plunge into this personal web development project. I realized programming is one of the few occupations that was part of any job I ever had. Years ago, soul-searching and preparing for the next career change, I rather figured the main common feature was teaching and know-how transfer – workshops and acedemic lectures etc. But I am relieved I gave that up; perhaps I just tried to live up to the expected ideal of the techie who will finally turn to a more managerial or at least ‘social’ role.

You can always find perfect rationales for irrational projects: Our web server had been hacked last year (ASP pages with spammy links put into some folders) and from backlinks in the network of spammy links I conclude that classical ASP pages had been targeted. My web server was then hosted on Windows 2003, as this time still fully supported. I made use of Parent Paths (../ relative URLs) which might have eased the hack. Now I am migrating to ASP.NET with the goal to turn off Classical ASP completely, and I already got rid of the Parent Paths requirement by editing the existing pages.

This website and my obsession with keeping the old stuff intact reflects my appreciation of The ExistingBeing Creative With What You Have. Re-using my old images and articles feels like re-using our cellar as a water tank. Both of which are passions I might not share with too many people.

My websites had been an experiment in compartmentalizing my thinking and writing – ‘Personal’, ‘Science’, ‘Weird’, at the very beginning the latter two were authored pseudonymously – briefly. My wordpress.com blog has been one quick shot at Grand Unified Theory of my Blogging, and I could not prevent my personal websites to become more an more intertwined, too, in the past years. So finally both do reflect my reluctance of separating my personal and professional self.

My website is self-indulgent – in content and in meta-content. I realize that the technical features I have added are exactly what I need to browse my own stuff for myself, not necessarily what readers might expect or what is considered standard practice. One example is my preference for a three-pane design, and for that infinite (no dropdown-menu) archive.

New website: Category page.

Nothing slows a website down like social media integration. My text file management is for sure not the epitome of efficient programming, but I was flabbergasted by how fast it was to display nearly 150 posts at once – compared to the endless sending back and forth questionable stuff between social networks, tracking, and ad sites (watch the status bar!).

However, this gives me some ideas about the purpose of this blog versus the purpose of my website. Here, on the WordPress.com blog, I feel more challenged to write self-contained, complete, edited, shareable (?) articles – often based on extensive research and consolidation of our original(*) data (OK, there are exceptions, such as this post), whereas the personal website is more of a container of drafts and personal announcements. This also explains why the technical sections of my personal websites contain rather collections of links than full articles.

(*)Which is why I totally use my subversive sense of humour and turn into a nitpicking furious submitter of copyright complaints if somebody steals my articles published here, on the blog. However, I wonder how I’d react if somebody infringed my rights as the ‘web artist’ featured on subversiv.at.

Since 15 years I spent a lot of time on (re-)organizing and categorizing my content. This blog has also been part of this initiative. That re-organization is what I like websites and blogs for – a place to play with structure and content, and their relationship. Again, doing this in public makes me holding myself accountable. Categories are weird – I believe they can only be done right with hindsight. Now all my websites, blogs, and social media profiles eventually use the same categories which have evolved naturally and are very unlike what I might have planned ‘theoretically’.

Structure should be light-weight. I started my websites with the idea of first and second level ‘menu’s and hardly any emphasis on time stamps. But your own persona and your ideas seem to be moving targets. I started commenting on my old articles, correcting or amending what I said (as I don’t delete, see above). subversiv.at has been my Art-from-the-Scrapyard-Weird-Experiments playground, before and in addition to the Art category here and over there I enjoyed commenting in English on German articles and vice versa. But the Temporal Structure, the Arrow of Time was stronger; so I finally made the structure more blog-like.

Curated lists … were most often just ‘posts’. I started collecting links, like resources for specific topics or my own posts written elsewhere, but after some time I did not considered them so useful any more. Perhaps somebody noticed that I have mothballed and hidden my Reading list and Physics Resources here (the latter moved to my ‘science site’ radices.net – URLs do still work of course). Again: The arrow of time wins!

I loved and I cursed the bilingual nature of all my sites. Cursed, because the old structure made it too obvious when the counter-part in the other language was ‘missing’; so it felt like a translation assignment. However, I don’t like translations. I am actually not even capable to really translate the spirit of my own posts. Sometimes I feel like writing in English, sometimes I feel like writing in German. Some days or weeks or months later I feel like reflecting in the same ideas, using the other language. Now I came up with that loose connection of an English and German article, referencing each other via a meta attribute, which results in an unobtrusive URL pointing to the other version.

Quantitative analysis helps to correct distorted views. I thought I wrote ‘so much’. But the tangle of posts and pages in the old sites obscured that actually the content translates to only 138 posts in German and 78 in English. Actually, I wrote in bursts, typically immediately before and after an important change, and the first main burst 2004/2005 was German-only. I think the numbers would have been higher had I given up on the menu-based approach earlier, and rather written a new, updated ‘post’ instead of adding infinitesimal amendments to the existing pseudo-static pages.

Analysing my own process of analysing puts me into this detached mode of thinking. I have shielded myself from social media timelines in the past weeks and tinkered with articles, content written long before somebody could have ‘shared’ it. I feel that it motivates me again to not care about things like word count (too long), target groups (weird mixture of armchair web psychology and technical content), and shareability.

Finally Mobile-Friendly! (How I Made Googlebot Happy)

Not this blog of course – it had been responsive already.

But I gave in to Google’s nagging and did not ignore messages in Google Webmaster Tools any longer. All my home-grown websites had a fixed width of the content pane and a fixed left sidebar. On a mobile device you only saw the upper left corner – showing the side bar and only part of the content pane.

Learning about a major Google update implemented last week I spent one night coding until the test went fine for our business website

punktwissen website, Google's test for mobile friendliness

… and for my/our other sites subversiv.at, radices.net, e-stangl.at, and z-village.net. I keep one non-responsive page: epsi.name.

This is not a guide to the perfect responsive design, I am not a professional web developer, and I don’t claim my CSS or HTML code is flawless, elegant, or processed correctly by all browsers in the world. I read this tutorial and this guide, and they provided me with clues to answer my main question:

What is the bare minimum to make a classical website
mobile-friendly according to Google’s requirements?

It also does not necessarily mean other websites are extremely difficult to read on a mobile device. There is a famous website that doesn’t meet Google’s standards although the content pane fits nicely into the width of a smartphone – if you turn it by 90° and scroll to the right … which Googlebot will not do.

In summary I did the following:

Pre-requisites: Use only CSS for formatting, especially define the layout by containers referred to in the stylesheet. Fortunately I made that move long ago.

1) Set a viewport metatag which tells the device to adapt the visible content to the width of the screen. Even if the width of the content is not fixed in a desktop browser, it is not automatically interpreted correctly on mobile devices without viewport. Actually, I was wrong in assuming that a plain old-school hardly formatted HTML text of variable width is mobile-friendly by default. In this case the content adapts to the width of the device, but Google rightly complains about too small text, and links too close together – in addition to missing viewport.

I had been intimidated by the small text / links close errors some time ago and figured I had to re-do all navigation elements. But after adding viewport, the ‘only’ thing left was to make the content break or flow so that it won’t be larger than the screen width. Text size and links were fine without any change to font size or width / height of containers for navigation links.

2) Add at least one media query to my CSS stylesheets in order to make the left side bar vanish or move if the width of the screen is pixels is smaller than a certain size. I tested with an Android device, and with Google’s tool – but mainly I was squeezing the window on a desktop PC to very small widths. For the business website I decided the sidebar is nice-to-have as it just shows recent blog posts – the same approach as used with by my current WordPress template. For some other sites it was an essential navigation pane; so I let it move to the top.

3) Make sure that all containers and images on a page resize or flow accordingly by making their styles change at the threshold width or continuously – this meant cross-checking the styles of all containers that define the layout and changing / adding style definitions depending on the screen width. I made images resizable, and text displayed left to images should flow under it at a certain width.

I Am Too Googleable!

What a letdown.

I wanted to report on near completion of The Website Resurrection Project – but I had a mind-altering experience.

On the upside, I am not afraid of identity theft or surveillance anymore.

My dentist had to cancel an appointment the day before. I showed up some minutes before the appointed time. The practice was empty and dark, except for the assistants who told me:

We have eagerly been waiting for you!! We did not know how to reach you as we didn’t have your phone number!

Have you tried to find my phone number on the web? It’s on my business website!

Yes, we searched the internet – but there were so many search results coming up!!!! And we did not know which is your business page!

(Probably it was more like:
One of *these* pages is for business?!?).

You could have sent me an e-mail – I am usually very responsive! My e-mail address is on all my websites.

There was no e-mail address!

Uhm… sorry… I am very active on the internet … it is maybe difficult to sort all that out …

So it was all in vain.

I have a business page, three personal websites, this blog, and a German blog, and some weird older web projects. Find the canonical overview here. My usual response to an enthusiastic

I have checked out your website ! 🙂 !!

is

Which one?

And each and every of those sites has this overly correct legal information notice our online media law demands of me.

I even add the e-mail address though I might not need to.

As the Subversive Element I note on top of the legal information block:
Adding legal information to a site like this constitutes an act of subversion in its own right

Legal information needs to be accessible in a simple way, via a single click from any page. You then argue at court over the definition of simple and single click and if your visitors could or could not infer from a URL title such as contact that address information is to be found at this URL.

Most German wordpress.com bloggers have a legal info page longer than my most extensive posts. The About page of this blog is, at the time of writing, most likely illegal as the linked legal information is two clicks away from any post.

Tinkering with this was just a tiny part of The Website Resurrection Project – I have re-written loads of content, and didn’t leave any of the code or design untouched. All for the sake of clarity and serving the internet community well – and because I don’t have much other hobbies.

Using a browser I never use to logon to Google, a search for my name brings up a reasonable collection of results – my personal site being in the first place, legal info one click away.

Google has honored my efforts by recognizing my authorship for this website although I did not do take ownership in the Google-technical sense for any site – as my nerdy readers might have noticed on this blog. I wanted to save my pseudonym elkement and not trade it for the real name Google+ forces you to use.

I don’t think there should be any difficulty to spot my contact data. I am happy with the ranking – I am just worried about the subversive stuff is given less weight than the business-y. But that does not prevent clients who are my business social networking contacts from asking me for my contact data again – on Facebook!

So what’ the problem?

The IMP Log The Very First Message Sent on the Internet (6293913865)

How did we get there? How did it get started? This is the log of the first message sent on the internet in 1969 (Wikimedia)

_________________________________________

For German readers: Here is the law(s).

On Social Media and Networking (Should Have Been a Serious Post, Turned out Otherwise)

It has been nearly a month since my satirical post on LinkedIn and bot-like HR professionals has stirred interesting discussions and unexpected reblogs. I have promised to come up with related posts regularly.

To all my new followers who were probably attracted by the Liebster-award-related nonsense: Compared to those posts this one is unfortunately a rather serious one. Compared to default social media expertise show-off it is nonsense, though.

Every opinion piece is based on the author’s secret assumptions about what makes this universe move in spacetime. For full disclosure I lay mine before you upfront:

Thinking about the blurred area where the corporate world and a subversive online universe meet I am reminded of The Cluetrain Manifesto, so this is my personal

Networking Manifesto.

Regular readers might have guessed at the following axioms:

  1. Sense of humor is the definitive  criterion that determines how well you will get along with other human beings. This also holds for future coworkers or employers.
  2. The harder corporations try to morph into social beings as per their PR stories, the weirder they appear when viewed from the inside. Corporate culture is very subtle.
  3. The tension between 1 and 2 catalyzes sparkling works in art (mainly comics and satire) as well as peculiar networking opportunities.

I did zero research for this post and I will not add outbound links – other than my own – this is ‘vanity linking’. If you are really interested in if and how I am following my own advice about social media you can stalk me on the pages and profiles listed at my Gravatar profile or my personal website.

In addition, I have no idea about a plot or structure for this post so I call this

The Top 10 +/- 5 Things I Learned from Networking on Social Media

1) Titles and taglines do matter:

If I would be a real social media expert I would have made the header of this post similar to your typical

Top Ten Self-Evident Things Anybody In His Right Mind Who Knows How to Use Google Can Come up with him/Herself Immediately

are shared like crazy on Twitter.

As a serious aside, I feel that titles of posts are important as many of my search terms are based on titles. Since I need those for Search Term Poetry, I cannot help but pick strange ones.

The same goes for your professional tagline, but it is walking a tightrope: If you want to make a change in your career you could add your aspirations to the title. E.g. if I am a historian for building intergalaxy cargo ships but I want to switch to doing strategy consulting for the cargo companies at Alpha Centauri, you might change your tagline to historian and consultant in intergalaxy shipping.

2) The mere existence of profiles does matter.

I believe we (the earth’ population) are changing our average attitude from

The internet – what a strange virtual place… and you really have a page about yourself?

to

Why in hell don’t you have an XY profile? You also have a telephone!

This is not a post on why and if this is something to be worried about, so I skip my postmodern commentary on culture. But I catch myself on being bewildered why I can’t find people on popular networks.

I don’t expect them to be active, have a lot of friends / followers (see 3) or providing a lof of details, but I wonder what’s the obstacle that would keep somebody from adding basic CV data on LinkedIn. I don’t claim my expectancy is rational.

What matters most to me as a reader is the temporal completeness as we time-travel experts say, that is
For all items it holds that [Year of finishing this = Year of starting something else]

3) There is no agreement on the importance of different networks, which ones to pick, and what it means to be a friend, contact, follower or connection.

There is a slight contradiction with 2) and I know it. But we cannot sort that out. I have received tons of invites to obscure networks I never heard of before. Other may feel the same about Google+.

I had endless discussions with people who wanted to add me on the first professional network I was a member of, actually the first network I ever signed up to in 2004 – XING, the German LinkedIn, so to say.

I have gone to great lengths in explaining that I will only accept contact requests from people I know in person or with whom I had substantial conversations online before. Others do consider these networks an option to find new contacts. I have over 600 contacts on XING despite my rigorous policies, simply for the fact I had added contacts over the years, in parallel to archiving business cards. But this large number of contacts make me appear as one of those contact collectors.

On the other hand, I entered Facebook by the end of 2012, and still I look like a networking loser with my less than 200 friends. Facebook will even block your account if you add too many friends in a short time. This is done by software in a Kafkaesque way, so there is no point complaining. This is another reason to follow my advice 2) and start out populating your list of contacts via organic growth early.

There will never be agreement with most of your contacts and friends on what a contact actually is. I believe this is the reason for the asymmetric relationships Twitter and Google+ had introduced: You can follow back, but you do not need to confirm a contact. Facebook has adopted this thinking by adding the subscriber option – now called followers, too.

I have given up and I do not take all that befriending and contacting too serious – so please go ahead and add me on all my networks if you like.

4) The internet is a public place.

This is stating the obvious. From day 1 of my existence as a web avatar – publishing my first embarrassing FrontPage generated site in 1997 – I have written every single post with a public audience in mind – even in so-called closed groups. Today I publish all my Facebook and Google+ stuff to ‘Public’.

I do not see the point of closed groups: not so much because of the risk of changing security settings in the future, triggered by a new group owner, new privacy policies, new security bugs, or careless friends publishing your friends-only stuff to the public. But I do not want waste a second on considering confidentiality issues when writing and aligning my style of writing with a specific audience. After all this should be fun, creative and weird (see 5).

I noticed – to my own surprise – that I started dreading any sort of private messages. If you want to tell me how great my postings are – please for heaven’s sake don’t send me a private Facebook message or an e-mail, but comment on them. I don’t even want to be tempted to add something ‘confidential’ in the reply and I don’t want to miss a chance to make my clever, witty reply available to the public. Zuckerberg said something about the end of privacy, and this is my interpretation of that.

As a consequence I have written about so-called personal stuff in open discussion groups and on my websites a few years ago. I have written about my lingering on the edge of burnout and have been applauded for my honesty. Today I feel my posts are not that personal even though I did not change my style. I am not into photography, so I hardly add any photos depicting something related to my private sphere. I don’t upload a photo of myself (a selfie) in a funny setting every day to Facebook. But just as my definition of ‘friend’ has changed, this might change as well.

5) The internet is a weird place, fortunately!

I was tempted to add the following to my networking manifesto:

Human beings connect with human beings, not with ‘businesses’. Members of the collective want you to remove their Borg implants.

I hope you get the picture without requiring me to go into a scholarly dissection of that great metaphor.

I mentioned the burnout confessions deliberately in 4) as they confirmed a secret theory of mine: If you present yourself as a human being, even within a so-called competitive environment, you motivate others to do the same. You lower the bar – it has the opposite effect of writing business-related e-mails at 2:00 AM that makes everybody else reply Do you ever sleep?

You might say this is off-topic and not strictly rooted in anything online – as most of these confessions happened offline actually.

I disagree as I believe that  the internet is a trigger and a catalyzer that has transformed our ways of thinking about public and private sphere. Today you often read you should take care of your online reputation and not publish your ‘drunk at a party pictures’ to Facebook. I don’t object to that, but I believe the solution is rather not to get drunk at parties.

20 years from now all people in charge of hiring others will belong to the generation whose lives have been documented online from day 1 – due to their baby-photo-Facebooking parents. Generation Y+ did not even have a chance to opt-out. I feel that they would rather consider somebody suspicious whose online utterances are all professional and sleek looking.

Since this is speculation, I add a link to a great article on Wired about the generation born 1993: “…She is casual about what some might consider the risks of oversharing. In the future, she says, it won’t matter if you did post a picture of yourself covered in chocolate, because “the people who care will all retire and the world will be run by my generation, which doesn’t give a shit…”

I owe the link and the pointer to this quote to my Google+ friends … which is the perfect bridge to a caveat that needs to be mentioned: Even if the internet is a weird place there is one important rule: Give fair credit! To other authors but also to other sharers and finders.

6) Finally I need to mention metrics.

I have a very special relationship with ‘meeting the numbers’ as readers of my articles about the corporate sphere do know. So I was delighted to have been invited to Klout. If you believe blog award nominations are like silly chain letters, consider this:

You earn scores based on your interactions and engagement on social media – that is: likes, followers, reshares, posts on your Facebook page … Unfortunately WordPress.com has not been factored in yet. Currently my score based on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and the Klout network itself is 57 which is of course above average.

This is called gamification. I won’t reiterate my usual lame jokes on AI software and failing the Turing test.

But there might be more it than providing a game for procrastinating office workers: This is the future of grading in education – and judging job applicants maybe:
Bizarre Trend: Journalism Professors Using Klout Scores As Part Of Students’ Grades

I had already run some experiments on how to increase the score by heavy tweeting – I am open to more experiments and I would appreciate if you add me as your influencer on Klout.

Klout’s mission is to empower every person by unlocking their influence.

For centuries, influence had been in the hands of a few. Social media has allowed anyone to drive action to those around them, democratizing influence.

— Quote from the Klout website: What is Klout?

Borg dockingstation

Borg Dockingstation (Wikimedia). Sorry, I know I am coasting on those clichés way too often.

So what are your thoughts – Generation Xers, Yers and Zers? (Borgs and other aliens may comment as well)

Edit – further reading: In a Twitter conversation related to this post this blog has been recommended to me – and I want to recommend it to all of you: thedigitalattitude.com. In contrast to my blog this one is really focussed on social media and how to present yourself and your skills online. 

 

Professional Online Persona or: What Are Your Skills?

My previous post has triggered intriguing discussions – about writing, identity and what I called an ‘online persona’. As far as I remember I borrowed this term from David Weinberger’s book Small Pieces Loosely Joined – sublime reflections on the way the web has impacted culture and communication.

I have asked myself sometimes: How should I describe and portray myself on so-called professional social networks given the fact I have tried to re-invent myself but / and / or fo not want to raise any false expectations or come across as Dr. Know It All Jack of All Trades Master of None Interested in Too Many Irrelevant Things.

Websites and profiles are not so much my home on the internet, but tools that supports the ongoing experiment of uncovering my unique voice. Yet professional social networks as LinkedIn are rather intended to provide an online CV or a skill matrix.

This article is a comprehensive review of the  Linkedin skills feature. In particular I like this quote: I too have been receiving endorsements from people I’m out of touch with, who are endorsing me for skills I didn’t even know I had’, like “food writing” and “celebrity” (whatever that means).

The list of my skills on my LinkedIn profile and its evolution is a great experiment in social dynamics (…plus game theory, plus artificial intelligence software testing…) although the skills not correctly attributed to myself were not as intriguing. I have experienced the following effects:

LinkedIn tries to extract – generic – skills from your profile that neither you or your contacts have yet added to your profile and asks your connections to confirm them. So the set of skills is impacted by LinkedIn’s bias.

I developed tools related to managing digital certificates – these are cryptography-based digital counterparts of national IDs – and the related management systems, Public Key Infrastructures. My main role in a project was PKI Consultant, and I never tried to sell myself as a developer. So the exact term should rather be Programming for PKI. But nobody uses that specific terms in his/her profiles so I did not object to add programming. Yet such generic terms can raise false expectations (which was actually the trigger to write this blog post).

Endorsements could make it harder or easier to change your focus and specialty due to the amplification fostered by LinkedIn.

You add skills to your profile or LinkedIn guesses at your skills and suggests them to others. Thus some connections will endorse you, and other members of the same community will notice as per the LinkedIn activity stream and endorse you as well. This might put emphasis on certain skills that you do not leverage that much on a daily basis or you do not want to use in the long run. On the other hand your network might endorse you for a very ‘old’ or ‘new’ skill and the self-enforcement of endorsements could help with changing fields of expertise.

But I strongly believe your most important skills cannot be represented in a ‘profile’ anyway. I dare say I did make some projects a success by using skills that have never been part of any skill matrix. These skills are attributed to you in private 1:1 feedback only.

Today’s hiring processes are often based on pre-screening applications for key words and three-letter acronyms. In discussion group I recently read: I hope the selection is not done by machines. Unfortunately, it nearly is. You might replace machine by HR people following some checklist.

Based on my experience I think there is a hierarchy of skills. I am aware of the vagueness in terminology I am going to introduce here.

  • Technical skills are a must. Replace ‘technical’ with whatever specific skills your education or experience has provided you with.
  • Top technical ‘guru’ skills – ideally communicated by an endorser, not by yourself – are the reasons customers might favor you over other applicants.
  • But social skills are the reasons they remember you. Probably these should be called general skills, including e.g.: perseverance to meet deadlines, writing flawless and precise e-mails, acting as an abritrator between people hostile to each other.
    Also Verbal / quant skills – as depicted in diagram in my recent reblog of Dan Mullin’s post Philosophy Degrees Are Undervalued all belong to the general skills category in my point of view.

Employers or clients will admire you for general skills after they have worked with you, but I am sceptical if such skills can be communicated in a way that helps in passing the barrier set up by the HR bots.

HR experts do not want to know that you have a proven track record on working with very different techniques in measuring physical properties of advanced materials and related data analysis – although you rightly believe that your most valuable skill is your ability to learn about new technologies quickly – based on your experience with related technologies. (Insert clichéd but true statement about the fast pace of evolving technologies.)

They rather want to see that you are capable of working with the Improbable Hyperspace Microscope analyzing samples of the recently detected rare earth metal Zaphodium, and analysing data using Most Buggy Scientific Software Tool, Version 42.42. You need to have more than 4.2 years of experience – it might not be sufficient to have worked with version 42.41 even if you have 4.3 experience with that one.

I am not making this stuff up, expect for the product names. You might be asked for 4.2 years of experience with a product that has been available on the market for 2.4 years only.

I had been lucky so far in circumventing such selection processes because I knew the person or department who was really looking for resources. In Austria, we have a strong tradition in bypassing processes in an informal – probably non-compliant – way. (But international corporations gradually  manage to add our distinctiveness to the collective.)

As this should not be your typical nerds ranting about clueless managers post, I try to distill some advice from my experience:

Some communities or industry sectors are more open to reasonable assessments of skills. For example, I learned from the IT security ‘hacker’ community to value skills demonstrated right in front of me. Hackers detest bragging with certificates or degrees.

Squeeze your ‘technical’ skills into very few key words, even if that hurts the generalist in you. I believe you need to be super specific:  PKI worked better than IT Security, Heat Pumps works better than Renewable Energy. It is like picking a tag line for a blog.

Don’t follow any advice, including guidelines about well-crafted social media profiles. My alter ego, the Subversive Element started writing the bloggy weird website subversiv.at at night when I was a serious IT consultant by day. I did not promote the site at all. Yet in a kick-off meeting in a new project a new colleague greeted me enthusiastically like that in front of all the other suits:

You are the Subversive Element, aren’t you? 🙂

Weird – or generally: unusual, outstanding – features in your profile constitute a filter – you filter potential clients by sense of humor for better or for worse.

Don’t speak about yourself in your professional profile in third person – in ‘speaker bio style’, such as: Elkement is a seasoned expert in hunting aliens, well-versed in intergalactic diplomacy with a proven track-record of efficiently destroyed foreign planets. 

Don’t panic.

Adam Pope Zaphod Beeblebrox

Zaphod Beeblebrox in an Amateur Production of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (Wikimedia) – in case you are looking for a weird avatar. Don’t be too original – allow for some cliché to strike a chord with others.

Don’t write walls of text.

On Writing or: What Do I Need to Smoke to Understand Your Websites?

This is a verbatim quote.
(“This” refers to the second part of the title. The first one is a lame reference to Stephen King, of course).

It is a question asked by a former colleague some years ago who had been exposed to my proto-blog websites for the first time. These websites are subject to my ongoing Website Resurrection Project.

I had planned to give you a dull, corporate-status-report-style update on the project, but there is nothing more to say but: To my utmost surprise I am really maintaining these websites still, in addition to this blog, in addition to our so-called company blog and websites (hardly discernible as such) … and in addition to excessive usage of social media since last year.

The more interesting question is: Why?

Why am I writing (pseudo-)blogs and why am I engaged in so many different conversations?

This post has also been inspired by Michelle Hatzel’s post on Virtual Dwellings.

I confess, my very first website was a business website (even discernible as such) – this was in 1997, the golden age of IT, before the dotcom crash – and me an aspiring freelance IT consultant. The Y2K version of this (German) site is still available, tagged as archived.

Thus I am not a serial website creator and deleter – I migrated the old stuff over and over to several new platforms and my rule is not to delete anything and cross-link all my profiles and websites. I am fascinated by the intricacies of Digital Legacy, by the way.

The only exception to this way taking large parts of the website offline and gradually ‘resurrecting’ them now. I dare say one of the reasons I am writing online is my desire to confront myself with my dated writing and thinking.

I am intrigued by ambiguity and by attempts to bridge chasms, most notably the ones running through my own (online?) persona. This was what made me craft the lengthy site title of this blog and this made me create three different sites back then – different in layout, style and content. In this blog I am aiming at exactly the opposite by combining everything.

Often I felt compelled to or obliged to write an ‘expert blog’, e.g. on cryptography and digital certificates. Theoretically this is the way to build an online community and reputation as the social media experts tell us, and it is a matter of fairness to add to the free repository of knowledge that had been invaluable to me as a professional.

But I already felt bored before I even got started. Though I do write about science and IT I cannot disentangle from personal stories and weird associations.

I called my personal website e-stangl.at my personal console – replying to my individual WHOAMI – and that’s exactly what it was. I started experimenting with the interaction between language, content, layout and the technical underpinnings of websites. I have spent hours in moving something one pixel to the left or to the right and musing about which colors to pick in order to perfectly represent the spirit of a website.

Adding a disclaimer I need to state my web tech knowledge is dated now and I don’t say that my sites are particularly beautiful or well done. But my own web design and web writing is one of the few things I ever tried my hands on that are devoid of my – otherwise all-encompassing and irritating – perfectionism.

My ancient websites are based on a homegrown ‘content management system’ that antedated some of typical blogging softwares’ features, but it lacked the options of adding categories and tags in a flexible way. This is due to my former belief in being able to really categorize in advance what you are going to write about. But I am an avid re-tagger and re-categorizer, and re-arranging my web content is really raking my personal Zen Garden.

Harima-ankokuji-sekitei01

Yes, there is nearly only navel-gazing at these websites, and – in a sense – this is an upside of making a website your fortress on the web, your personal dwelling. Though I had received unsolicited feedback via e-mail now and then, I know I am writing only for myself. Since these are technically not blogs and not hosted on a well-indexed platform they are basically not found. The whole point is writing with an imaginary public audience in mind that theoretically could read it, but not in your wildest dreams expecting any feedback ever.

I started this blog with the same ‘intentions’, but suddenly the fortress with its well-defined boundaries turned into a conversation. Years before I had loathed the concept of my comments published at other websites and other bloggers’ comments published to mine – blurring the boundaries between ‘mine’ and ‘your’ virtual territory. I imagined all kinds of stalkers and fringe scientists invading my websites. Unfortunately that did not happen.

Now I consider myself part of that large network and I don’t care about the boundaries. It is the process, the endless stream of different conversations that meet in a place that I might call my online dwelling. It is like a roundabout or crossroads, not like a building.

This is most likely the reason I plunged in to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ gleefully – as a rather late adopter. Again I finally ‘got’ the idea of resharing and retweeting existing content which seemed absurd and useless to me before: It is about being a thought leader DJ. I accepted that all human utterance is entirely plagiarism (Mark Twain) and came to terms with all of writing (any myself) being cliché. No, this time I won’t pingback to my article featuring Sandra Bullock as the nerdess. quoting my article about cliché has become cliché it its own right.

The greatest mystery to myself was probably why I am blogging in English. About 10 years ago I had suddenly decided I needed to have an English version of subversiv.at and e-stangl.at. I planned for a 1:1 correspondence of English and German pages and I failed epically on that: I dreaded keeping them in sync. The English version just never wanted to be a translation of the German one or vice versa. It was more like: Here is a keyword – now write down your free associations in German and English.

I am not sure if this explains anything but my English reading at that time comprised the following books that I still consider most influential.

The following website – my first English-only website has materialized itself out of the blue in 2005 after having devoured such books in parallel to your daily dose of ‘corporate communications’. It was about a ‘group project’ whose activities I had the honor to chronicle.

EPSI

EPSI is a prestigious middle European Think Thank dedicated to: Elementary research, painting blogs, collecting space and doing something. (This was our logo).

For better or for worse: My brain switches to English when pondering on smart aliens who plan to subvert the corporate world, for example. I had written extremely weird stuff in German also – that triggered the quote used as header, but German and English weirdness cannot be translated into each other. As an important initiative in The Website Resurrection Project – I started commenting on my former, weird German ‘Subversive Newsletters’ in English, and I started adding ironic and sarcastic comments on my former Pivotal Articles in German such as my graduation speech.

This post has reflected an important characteristic of all my online writing: It is a about trains of random thoughts, loosely connected, and not all planned strategically. It is finally about a global conversation, not so much about exposing my monolithic work of art to the public.

If you do not know how to close a random post – add a quote:

We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that’s more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

— Christopher Locke in Internet Apocalypso, Chapter 1 of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site.
Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

— Thesis Nr. 22 of 95 of The Cluetrain Manifesto