Writing For Online Audiences? Say More. Write Less.

It’s a humbling experience to realize that while you enjoy writing, did well in school and aren’t afraid of expository essays – it’s a whole other world when writing for the web. Social media, email newsletters, company blog posts…these should be considered channels to produce “copy” – not tomes.

Compelling copy is written economically.

Less is more, no matter how long the supporting body copy should be. Twitter imposes a 140 character limit….but Facebook doesn’t. Neither does email. Long-winded social media posts and emails bore readers; too much copy that takes too long to get to the point sacrifices attention – and ultimately sales.

Consider theSkimm, an email newsletter that raised $6.3M in Series A funding this past December. It recaps top news stories, pared-down into informal, easy-to-digest snippets. Created by two former NBC News producers, theSkimm excels at explaining why those top stories are considered important. This layer of meta-value is created thanks to an appreciation by the editors for their audience’s time and intelligence: busy professionals who want to know not just what’s happening in the world, but why it matters.

Another example of the value of sharp content is Blinkist, an app that summarizes nonfiction books into 250 words or less chapters, including a Final Summary chapter. Their tagline is “A smarter you in 15 minutes”. Brilliant. For free, you get access to one pre-selected book a day. I recently upgraded to receive unlimited “Blinks” for less than $40 per year. Classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Emotional Intelligence and Getting Things Done are broken down and digested in a way that feels intravenous.

This trend is also part of what makes Medium so compelling as a blog publishing platform; each post has a “read time” next to the title, allowing the reader to mentally prepare before making any investment of attention or time.

Read time on Medium

Image of a “5-min read” article by Medium author @amarchenkova

theSkimm, Blinkist and Medium are examples of how to make online content compelling. They’re both modeled on providing “hooks” – a reader gets a taste of something he or she can then decide to further investigate. theSkimm links to original sources; I’m waiting for Blinkist to offer integration with Amazon’s “Wish List” if not a direct link to the book’s product page.

Brands interested in grabbing and retaining attention need to say less.

Which requires smarter writing. Which involves more thought. To understand the target audience. What’s the value of the content. How to communicate smartly and effectively.

For more on writing crisp, concise copy for the web, Copyblogger is a great resource on the topic. Pair with “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, a guidebook on creating effective ad copy. You could even read it in 13min on Blinkist. 😉

The Paradox of Time Management Apps

I actually spent 3 hours last week testing time management apps and reveling in the irony of it all. Each app had its own attractive life-saving combination of promises and features, user interfaces and API integrations. None of them offered to actually do my work for me and none was obviously more helpful than the others.

The one valuable discovery I did make during this otherwise complete waste of a morning was the Pomodoro technique which is actually a concept not a proprietary product. In other words it’s useful (and free). The idea is you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Repeat.

The concept of 25 minutes is easy to visualize, especially if you grew up watching TV sitcoms. During a standard 30-minute TV show a dramatic problem is both introduced and resolved. An entire family can learn a valuable life lesson (e.g. Full House). A dynamic duo of teenage youth compete to get the shit scared out of them by surprise attacks from evil “temple monkeys (e.g. Legends of the Hidden Temple). You get the point.

The Pomodoro technique works because it forces you to do the following:

1) Focus – Suddenly you’re on the clock and you only have a relatively short amount of time to actually get something done. Yet it’s long enough to be considered a waste if nothing comes of it.

2) Prioritize – Working within concrete, regular intervals enables you to conceptualize projects into individual tasks. You ask yourself ‘What can I get accomplished in the next 25 minutes, that will move my project forward?’

3) Stay sane – We’ve all been there; you’re so overloaded you don’t know where to begin. Because the Pomodoro technique includes taking a break, you’re left with no excuse but to simply Start. Somewhere. The break gives you a chance to either remove yourself from the task or take a step back and evaluate your approach.

So give the Pomodoro method a try using your watch or phone. During your first 5-min break, watch this 4:41 artistic interpretation on the meaning of Time. Take the remaining 1:19  to scrape your thoughts from the ceiling. I warned you!

Apps for New Yorker Dogs and Their Owners

I feel like pet owners could be the new special-interest group.

Apps for New York Dog Owners

Maybe I’m just spoiled from living in Tel Aviv for almost 4 years where you can literally take your dog anywhere, but now that I’m living outside Manhattan, the lack of options is disturbing. I feel discriminated against, not being allowed into stores with her.

What I Want in a Dog-Lover App:

There’s gotta be an app for dog lovers to share pictures of their babies with other obsessed, antisocial crazy pet owners, right? As someone in dire need of this service, I set out to discover what apps are out there for not just myself, but for my little friend with glorious eyebrows.

  1. Location-based info about nearest dog parks, pet stores and garbage cans
  2. Who’s nearby and wants to play? Foursquare for pet owners, with breed, sex and age info (of the dogs, too).
  3. Ability to share photos and video with Betsy’s fans and followers, not my own
  4. No cat pictures whatsoever

Apps for Finding Dog-Friendly Places

Dog Parks

Yessss! Look at all those green dots! There are plenty of dog parks in Manhattan, and a bunch out on Long Island I didn’t know about. You can also see if the parks are fenced in or not, and if they have separate sections for small dogs only. Plus it’s free!

dogpark - dog lover apps for new yorkers

Look at all those green dots!

DogFriendly.com Mobile

This is the head honcho of New Yorker dog owner sites. Stores, travel, park hours, accommodations, etc. for all US and Canadian cities. It’s not location-based, so it doesn’t automatically detect where you are to show what’s nearby, but what it lacks in usability it more than makes up for in providing practical information. Find  off-leash hours at Central Park (9am – 9pm), MTA and LIRR rules and a list of restaurants with outdoor seating.

dogfriendlymobile - dog lover apps for new yorkers

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Dog Friendly

A variation on a theme. Almost same exact name as DogFriendly Mobile, but more user-friendly and with less content. It is location-based, unlike DogFriendly Mobile which forces you to manually scroll…….so such a thing does exists, but there aren’t enough users adding dog-friendly locations.

dogfriendly - location based app for dog owners

Locator app for dog-friendly places

Apps for Socializing and Photo Sharing

Sadly, it appears that Dogster (Facebook for dogs) used to have an app called Dog Park that let you meet up and socialize with dog owners nearby…but such a thing apparently no longer exists.

Rate My Puppy

I can see this app being popular for girls who are going through difficult break-ups. Immerse yourself in a sea full of adorable up-close shots of doe-eyed puppies looking all forlorn and in need of more votes for Cutest Puppy.

ratemypuppy - apps for pet owners

An app to ease the pain of a breakup

I didn’t end up using it because you need to register, and it’s not clear if they want your name, age and sex or your dog’s. In my moment of pondering, I lost interest. Then I berated myself for my short attention span, and attempted to register again, but they didn’t let me use a proxy email address I set up for purposes like this one.

Apps for Pet Health

iKibble

This one lets you check what “human foods” are safe to feed your dog. I’m a huge sucker and always give my dog leftovers and stuff I know I shouldn’t, just in terms of discipline and getting her to like her dog food. But it’s not that hard to remember the handful of foods that are really bad for dogs: onions and garlic, grapes and raisins, chocolate and nuts. I don’t think you need an entire app for that list, but I guess there are apps out there for a lot less useful things. Also, watercress? Really?

ikibble - apps for pet owners

For people with memory problems.

Pet First Aid

This one seemed to be the most useful and legitimate app I found for pet owners. It’s $3.99 to download, a smart price point for marketing to the pet-obsessed. I’m not a monster. I’ll pay $3.99 to have instant emergency health info.

petfirstaid - apps for pet owners

First-aid & medical record for your pet

There are plenty of stupid apps for taking pictures of your dog, games involving dogs (one app lets you adopt a virtual puppy), translate your dogs barks into words, and so on. DogiDuty is a cool way for dog owners to communicate with their dog walkers, for poop updates and feeding times.

But there isn’t one go-to app that feels freshly updated and popular enough to include useful user-generated content. It’s the catch-22 of apps. If you build one, they will come…but unless they stick around and are active users, the app fails.

So for now, the winners are Dog Park and DogFriendly.com Mobile.

I know there are ways to accomplish what I want in a dog-owner app, using platforms like Google+ or Pinterest. I could create “Circles” for my pet-owner friends…but that would require me to use Google+, which I just can’t be bothered to do. I created a “board” on Pinterest and I called it MinPinterest, but that doesn’t take care of everything I wanted out of a social app for dog-owners. I joined Dogster at one point, but sort of forgot about it.
Do you know of any other apps for New York dogs?