“This is The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done”

I’ll start with a quick story.

I work with students at One Month, and we do a lot of one-on-one sessions where I can troubleshoot common problems that people have when building apps.

One day, a student reached out who was having trouble with images not working correctly in their Rails app. I had seen a few errors that could happen at this point in the project, so I was confident that I could get this fixed. I followed up and we scheduled a screen sharing session.

As the session progressed, I started to panic. This was a new problem, one I had never seen before, and none of my usual fixes were working. Over the next 30 minutes I tried several different things, walking through some more obscure troubleshooting techniques. As a last measure, I decided it would be best to have the student continue through the lesson with the code not working and we’d reconvene at a later date.

I felt defeated.

That’s when I saw the problem: we were missing the image rendering code. Once we added this bit of code, the project worked and the student was back on track. Hooray!

As I walked to the train that night, I replayed the session in my head, trying to figure out what happened. In that moment, I realized something about the learning process:

You are either doing something easy because you’ve done it before, or it’s the hardest thing that you’ve ever done, because it’s new.

When faced with a new problem, something you have never seen before, it will always be the hardest problem you’ve ever faced.

During that screenshare, I faced, at that point in my life, the hardest problem that I ever had to face, and it was new. It wasn’t what I had expected and nothing was working.

I had no clue what I needed to do and no idea where to go.

I think that as learners, we often forget this idea. We forget that we are forging new pathways in our personal atlas. It is in these moments that we have to accept that the problem is hard. It’s hard because we don’t have answers, and we don’t know how to figure it out yet. Not only do we not know the solution, we don’t know how to go about figuring it out. This feels really frustrating. But that’s the whole point: to challenge ourselves to find those answers.

The point is learning.

In 2015, Omies decided that we would make personal resolutions. We even went so far as to write them down and share them publicly so you all could hold us accountable. My resolution was to make more music. I share new work and music links every week on my public Trello board. Every week I sit down with the goal of “drawing a musical sketch.”

It has been really hard. It’s hard because it’s so far from where I want to be, and being bad at something for a while isn’t always the most fun place to be. When you’re learning, there’s a lot of frustration. Most people give up when it gets hard, but there’s something that happens when you figure it out. When I get frustrated with my weekly musical sketch or want to quit I think back to my screenshare:

“It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, until it’s easy.”

5 Of The Best Blogging Platforms

Are you ready to kickoff your content marketing strategy, but confused about which platform to choose to start your blog? If so, then you’re in luck. In this post, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each option so that you can get a clear idea of the best blogging platform for you. A strong blogging strategy can help elevate your personal brand or business as an authority within your space.

WordPress

WordPress, a popular CMS (content management system), is the most widely-used on the internet today and one of the best blogging platforms available. Technology profiler BuiltWith has identified that 15.8 million websites currently use it, compared to the next most popular CMS system Joomla, used by under 2.7 million websites. Web Technology Surveys found that of websites using content management systems, 58.7% are using WordPress.

There are two versions of WordPress. There is the hosted version, WordPress.com, which allows you to create a blog without the need for a domain, web hosting, or technical hassle. While this is the easiest and least expensive of options, it’s not as flexible as using the WordPress software on your own hosted domain.

Using the WordPress software on your own hosted domain allows you to have full control of the design, functionality, and content on your website. Thanks to its popularity, you can find thousands of themes (templates / designs) to get just the look you want for your website. You can also find thousands of designers who can create something custom or customize a theme that you like into something unique.

You can also find thousands of plugins to enhance the functionality of your website. This means that you can do pretty much anything on your WordPress website, from customizing the search engine optimization settings to adding contact or email opt-in forms to your blog sidebar. You could even start your website as a blog and expand it to include anything you want, including an ecommerce website, forum, membership site, or social network.

As far as content goes, you have the ability to backup your content on a daily basis through the use of plugins, services, and hosting companies. Unlike people who only post to their Facebook page or other social profiles, you never have to worry about waking up one day to having lost your entire profile and thus, all of your content.

In short, there is very little you can’t do with WordPress software on your own hosted domain. This makes it the most scalable platform for your personal brand or business. You won’t have to worry about hitting a limitation that would lead you to having to move all of your content to another platform.

For those who do not like the idea of dealing with the technology-aspect of WordPress, there are plenty of options. You can choose WordPress-specific hosting companies like WP Engine or Synthesis, both of which cater only to WordPress websites and include security, backups, and superior WordPress software support.

This means that you can have the full benefits and features of WordPress with little technology hassle. You can learn more about using the WordPress software on your own domain at WordPress.org, as well as see a showcase of some of the top sites using WordPress.

WordPress.com

While we mentioned that WordPress.com is not going to be as flexible as using the WordPress software on your own hosted website, it is the next best bet if WordPress sounds good to you, but you are just not ready to deal with web hosting and seeking out themes and plugins for your website. And it’s a good one for people who want to have the option of easily moving their content from a hosted platform to the WordPress software down the road.

Here’s what you need to know about using WordPress.com:

  • There are 374 themes to choose from, 194 of which are free.
  • Certain features, such as using your own domain name (you.com versus you.wordpress.com) or having an ad-free website, will require you to upgrade to paid plans starting at $99 per year.
  • You can’t install plugins designed for websites using the WordPress software on WordPress.com websites, which will limit your options for things like custom opt-in forms, custom search optimization, and more.

One of the biggest challenges for those who intend to eventually move from WordPress.com to the WordPress software on their own domain are the links. WordPress.com uses a specific link structure (you.wordpress.com/date/post-name/ or you.com/date/post-name/). If you can’t use the same URLs when you move from WordPress.com to your own domain, you will lose the links you have received to your content and the social sharing counts (social proof) for your content.

In short, if your goal is to simply get your content going on a platform that would be easy to transfer to WordPress software down the road, WordPress.com is your second best bet to just using the WordPress software from the start.

WordPress.com does offer an export of your content, should there be any need to do so. With any hosted platform, it’s best to get a backup of your content regularly, in case you should lose your account or the platform should go out of service.

Medium

Medium is a hosted platform that has taken off in the last year and quickly become a top blogging platform. It’s beautiful and minimalistic design allows you to focus on what matters most in your content marketing strategy: your content. There are no themes to pick, plugins to install, or features to toggle. You simply write your content.

Signing up for Medium is easy to — you can use your Twitter or Facebook account and get the added bonus of automatically building an audience based on the people you are connected with on those accounts. As new people join, if they are connected with you on Twitter or Facebook, they will also be connected with you on Medium.

Depending on their settings, anyone connected to you on Medium will be alerted to new posts you write and posts you recommend on Medium. This means that if someone recommends your post, their audience will be notified about it. Hence, you’re getting built-in content promotion.

With that said, there are no customization options for your Medium blog. You can’t add opt-in forms to a sidebar that doesn’t exist. You can’t add your own social sharing buttons. You can’t customize the SEO fields. It’s simply a place to create and consume content.

While that’s not a bad thing, especially for those who are looking to simply build exposure for their personal brand, it may not be the best thing for businesses. Especially those looking to convert readers into customers, as the best you can do is link back to your main website.

Medium does offer an export of your content, should there be any need to do so. With any hosted platform, it’s best to get a backup of your content regularly, in case you should lose your account or the platform should go out of service.

LinkedIn Publisher

LinkedIn has been allowing industry experts to blog on their network for a while, and recently, the option has been expanded to most LinkedIn members. To use LinkedIn’s blogging feature, you will just need to find the Publish a post button on your personal profile news feed. It will be right next to the buttons to share an update or photo on LinkedIn.

This brings to light the first major limitation of LinkedIn Publisher — you can’t use it with company pages. With Medium, you can simply sign up using your company’s Twitter profile. But on LinkedIn, you have to use your personal profile.

While that limits you from creating a blog for your business using LinkedIn, it does allow you to tap into your personal profile connections in a unique way. LinkedIn sends a notification to all of your first-degree connections (people you have connected with on LinkedIn) when you publish a post on your personal profile.

Your connections don’t have to opt-in to this, and the only way to opt-out is to unsubscribe from the notifications dropdown itself. This makes your first post on LinkedIn special in the sense that everyone will get notified about your first publication. After that, it will depend on whether you have left enough of an impression for your connections to stay subscribed to your notifications.

So be sure to make your first post on LinkedIn count so that people will want to hear about your next one.

Similar to Medium, you have no real customization options for your LinkedIn blog. You can add images and text to each piece of content, but there are no themes to choose from or sidebars to build. Again, the only call to action you would be able to include would be a link back to your website.

Another downside to using the LinkedIn platform is the fact that you have no real control over your content. If LinkedIn decided to kill off their blogging platform, downloading your content and importing it to another platform would not be very seamless.

Facebook Notes

Facebook offers a feature called Notes for profiles and pages to use to share long-form content. The key difference at the moment is that Notes for profiles has been upgraded to a Medium-like format. Notes for pages is still using the format that existed years ago, which is clunky at best.

This means that you can blog using Notes on your personal profile or business page. While notes tend to get a little better visibility in the Facebook news feed, it isn’t much and your connections are not notified of a new note publication unless they have explicitly signed up for notifications from you.

For those looking to build up their reputation specifically on Facebook, Notes are a good way to go. You even get a little content promotion from the Notes page, where people can see notes published by their connections.

Similarly to Medium and LinkedIn, there are no customization options for your Facebook Notes, other than adding images and text to each of your posts. Calls to action can only be made with a link back to your website.

Also, exporting your content must be done through a full export of your entire account history. If Facebook decides to kill off Notes, you will have to export all of your notes and re-enter them on a new platform.

Using All of the Platforms for Distribution

There is an alternative to choosing one platform over the other, and that is to choose them all. While it might sound a little overwhelming at first, the goal isn’t to create unique content for each of these platforms. Instead, you will create one unique piece of content on your main platform and distributing that content on the other platforms mentioned above (Medium, LinkedIn Publisher, and Facebook).

Here’s why you would want to do this. You are going to have fans that prefer discovering content on Medium. You are going to have people who are connected to you on LinkedIn, but not anywhere else. You are going to have people who scroll down your Facebook profile page looking for more info about you.

Distributing content from your main blogging platform to other platforms allow you to get more reach for your content. All you have to do is find a way to summarize the main post and link back to it in posts on the other platforms.

You can expand this strategy to include some of the other best blog platforms too including Tumblr, Blogspot, Quora, and pretty much any other platform that allows you to share long-form content. In addition to reaching your audiences on those networks, you will be building links that Google search can follow back to your main piece of content to index it.

So instead of considering an all or nothing strategy, consider an all strategy instead. The more you distribute and promote, the better your overall content marketing results will be.

The Case for Online Education

I have a prediction: Not only will online education eventually be as good as offline education, it will be better.

The honeymoon is over. People are writing about how online education will never replace offline education. I’d like to challenge that view: not only will online education eventually be as good as offline education, it will be better.

Saying that online education will never be as good as offline (because it’s not currently as good) is like taking one look at a Model T, saying that it’s unsafe, and urging everyone to switch back to horses.

The reason online classes will eventually be better than offline classes is simple:

We can measure and respond to students’ behavior much more easily and quickly when education is digital than when it is analog.

On the other hand, what makes for a good teacher in a classroom setting? A good teacher is someone who can:

  • Come up with compelling content that explains complicated topics
  • Take in a lot of information about how students are responding to that content
  • Adjust the style based on that information quickly

A good teacher can see the look in a student’s eyes and tell immediately whether a particular topic is resonating or not. He or she has the ability to reiterate a point and respond to questions in real time. That’s what we mean when we say that an in-person classroom experience is more “personal” — and it’s hard to imagine online education being able to match that anytime soon.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a second. In theory, a computer can take in vastly more information than a human can and respond to it much faster. According to Scientific American, two years ago the fastest computer could store almost ten time as much data as the human brain and process it almost four times as fast.

Imagine what a good teacher could do if he or she knew where exactly a student was getting confused during a lesson, how long it took that student to complete an exercise, or even the student’s physiological responses to the content (say, for example, by tracking heart-rate or eye movements via webcam — forget about the creepy-factor).

There are a handful of education startups already tracking some of this data, but they’ve barely scratched the surface of how to use it to make education more compelling.

This brings me to my second and more pressing point:

The biggest problem with in-person education is that it forces a linear, one-size-fits-all teaching style.

In any classroom, there will be some students that are behind and some that are ahead.

Even the best teacher in the world must deal with this tradeoff, which boils down to the following question: Should I slow down to help more students understand, or speed up to cover more material?

And so they inevitably end up settling on a pace and an educational approach somewhere in the middle.

Online education can solve this problem because it allows for personalized learning. Educational content and style can adapt to a particular student and that student’s response to a particular lesson.

Imagine a world in which no one person experiences the same class in the same way. One that adjusts a lesson on computer programming depending on whether a student already has previous experience with programming, or is a total beginner — why not use concepts a student may already have to allow them to learn something faster?

Or one in which the way the material is delivered is different depending on whether the student is an auditory, a visual, or a kinesthetic learner.

Or one in which the order of the lessons themselves are rearranged. (Or A/B tested!)

Or one that can identify early that a student might get stuck in an upcoming lesson and takes him or her on a learning detour to reinforce important concepts and avoid frustration that might otherwise lead to abandonment.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine this world, because Salman Khan is already doing it with Khan Academy (watch 13:35 if you’re not yet sold on the value of personalized education).

Finally, advancements in online education allow teachers to treat classes in the same way that startups treat products.

There are tons of amazing tools out there for A/B testing, onboarding, gamification, email campaigns, measuring user satisfaction, and so much more that startups use. Why not apply the same tools to education? It’s going to happen, it’s only a matter of time.

That’s why it’s frustrating to hear people brush off online education as a failure that will never amount to anything. Let’s see the current batch of online educational classes and platforms as what they really are: a first attempt.

(This post was originally posted on the One Month Rails blog)