February 2015

Regarding "The Unbearable Lightness of Twitter"

- by Alyson Shane

Yesterday I read a post on The Atlantic by Derek Thompson titled "The Unbearable Lightness of Twitter" in which he argues that one of the most prominent and popular social networks is nothing but a "hollow sharing economy."

It's an interesting piece, and as a result of Thompson's analyses I decided to take a look at my own analytics to see how I was doing. 

By Thompson's own measure, I'm not doing so hot. In February I've clocked in 208,000 tweet impressions, and none of my top tweets have anything to do with my own website. In fact, this is my top tweet from this month:

To be fair, my workload has ramped up and I haven't spent as much time on Twitter as I usually do, but still, in terms of gauging Twitter as a useful tool for driving traffic, clearly it's not doing what I need it to do.

Or is it? I guess that's a matter of perspective.

Thompson's frustration with Twitter is that 99 percent of his work stays on Twitter - that is, the engagement which happens with Tweeted content rarely gets sent back out into the web. He also states that Twitter is effective only as a self-contained portal for images and observations, and calls it "worthless" for the singular purpose of driving traffic back to your own website.

Here is where he, and many others make their mistake: Twitter is a tool that is effective at creating conversations and sharing content, not driving targeted clicks.

I tend to think about Twitter as being at a big party: you've got tons of people present, all having small conversations that you can participate in. If you go to a party and stand in the middle of the room and just shout out statements (the analog equivalent of Tweeting out nothing but links to your site) people won't care. Just like a real-life conversation, you have to engage with people on Twitter provide ongoing proof there is a reciprocal interest. 

A quick glance at my Google Analytics for this site shows me that, on average, 30-40% of my traffic comes from Twitter. I haven't drilled down into what that looks like in per-tweet-clicks, but the fact that a large percentage of my traffic (which does pretty well, if I may say so myself) comes from a social network that is apparently terrible at driving traffic interests me.

Here's what I think: the difference is that I'm not on Twitter solely to drive traffic to my website. Sure, I want people to visit my site, but that's not the only focus of interactions on Twitter, and because I spend a lot of time showing an interest in other people, when I post a link to my site and say "here, read this" people click through because I've already proven to them that what I have to say has value. That's where Twitter really shines as a sharing tool.

So when Thompson says that he doesn't think that businesses should focus on Twitter as a means to drive traffic to their website, I agree, but that's because that's not really what Twitter is about, anyway. It's about participating in engaging conversations that make people care about you and what you have to say.

While 99 percent of your work might stay on Twitter, getting that 1 percent to jump over to your site requires that you provide them with good, ongoing reasons to do so. We do this by making connections and by developing relationships with the people who follow us, which generates interest not only in our Twitter profiles, but where we invest our time on other sites as well. 


Managing My Anxiety with Pacifica

- by Alyson Shane

Many of you know that over the past while I've been trying to take positive steps to start tackling the stress and anxiety that I deal with in my day-to-day life. Part of that has been creating positive dialogues by sharing my experiences, and recently it's involved using an app called Pacifica.

I'd never really considered using an app to manage my anxiety, but after John mentioned it and sent me a link to their webpage, I figured "why not?" Since then I've been using it daily and have really been noticing a change in my mood and my anxiety levels.

Basically the app provides you with tools to work on mindfulness and to track your moods and activities over time, which attempts to paint a picture of the kinds of behaviours that can increase or decrease anxiety and stress.

There are five daily tasks: Mood, Relax, Thoughts, Experiments, and Health, though when you use the free version (like me, I'm cheap) you only get access to three a day. Honestly though this is more than enough. 

There are two things about this app that I liked enough to sit down and write a review, one of which is the little push notification. Usually I hate them, but there's something sort of soothing to look down at your phone and see a message that says "how are you feeling?" - even when I know it's coming from an app, it makes me stop and think. 

This also works well because once I see the push notification I go right into the app and input my Mood, which means that I don't just use it when I'm feeling good or bad, which would skew my ability to figure out if I'm making progress.

The other is the Thoughts feature. I used this for the first time the other day after a particularly stressful experience.

Basically the feature has you record your thoughts out loud, then it plays the recording back to you and asks you to identify positive and negative statements. 

When you identify a negative statement, it displays leading questions which force you to think about why you felt that way, and why you expressed it the way that you did. 

Once you've listened to it once (or more times if you need) the app has you re-record your thoughts on the issue: was it as bad as you thought? How could you change your thinking patterns moving forward? etc.

I really struggle to do this in the moment and while it was a bit weird to talk out loud when nobody else was around, hearing myself played back and thinking critically about the statements that I heard myself making really, really helped. 

The app does other stuff, too, like helping you track how much you sleep, how well you ate, how much exercise you got, etc, but this was the most influential tool that I've used so far.

I really find that managing my day-to-day stress and anxiety levels can be a challenge, and having an app has really helped me be more mindful of my choices and it's helpful to go back to a particular day and be able to say "yeah, I handled that really well" or "I could have done better, what can I improve on?" and see that progress over time. 

What about you - do you have any app recommendations for managing anxiety? I'd love to hear them! 


One look at a banana and you can tell it came from outer space.

- by Alyson Shane

That line is from The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. John and I are reading it together right now - it's his first time but I've read it about four times since I first read it in my first year of university. 

It's one of my favourites and it's neat sharing it with him.

We read together most evenings, and sometimes during the day on the weekends, too. Once in a while I read out loud but usually he reads to me while I curl up in our down comforter, or lie in his arms, or sometimes paint my toenails or clean the bathroom.

So far the list of books that we've read together looks like this:

The Tao of Pooh 
James and the Giant Peach
The Neverending Story
Station Eleven
The Blind Assassin

which I believe is missing a few but I can't really remember at the moment. 

It's weird dating another avid reader, but wonderful. Our very first "date night" after we started dating was on a Friday night. We made rosemary chicken and salad and drank red wine and sat on John's shag rug and talked made out and he read Oscar Wilde poems to me. 

How could I not be completely charmed, really?

Even now we read to each other constantly; yesterday while running errands John asked me to read something to him in the car and so I did. 

He drove and I read and we talked and it was lovely.

Most of what I've done this weekend involved potting plants, shopping, cooking or reading. I spent very little time online and what time I did spend was largely spent reading articles in the car yesterday.

It was nice to unwind and recharge. 

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to catch up on Twitter and write a bit here and whatnot. 

But honestly I can't wait to peel back the blankets, get into bed, and lose myself in that book again.


The Story of My CBC Mug

- by Alyson Shane

Woke up at 3:30 yesterday with my throat on fire. John was kind enough to give me a lift to a walk-in (it's not strep, yay!) but otherwise I spent the day sucking on lozenges and soothing my throat with honey and lemon infused hot toddies out of my new favourite mug.

I picked up this mug at the #CBCTweetupMB event last week. As I was leaving I saw a huge box with tshirts and mugs and other CBC merch (which I totally love - I'm a sucker for anything with the CBC logo or HBC stripes on it).

There was a nice dude standing next to the box who nicely told me when I asked about it that because I was too busy tweeting and talking and eating little cupcakes instead of filling out the BINGO sheet that they provided attendees, I wasn't able to get a mug. 

Damn. Should've filled out that BINGO sheet.

Brokenhearted, I walked away and started to put on my jacket. Then this little boy who was standing next to the table called over

"Excuse me! You can have my mug, if you want it!"

Which is how I met Atticus and his mom, Sharon. 

Atticus is not only the super-cute kid who stole my heart with his act of chivalry, but he also is a local 10-year old hero who has done a ton of charity work including raising over $1,000 worth of formula for Winnipeg Harvest back in 2013. 

Anyway, Atticus was at the tweetup as well and like a responsible attendee (unlike some of us...) filled out his card, which meant that he got a mug that he gave to me. 

Atticus, I told you that I'd write about meeting you and I hope you see this - you're such an inspirational little dude and I loved reading about all of your work for Winnipeg Harvest!

Keep on being a charmer and being a positive force in our community!


yr girl Shaner


Thermëa Winnipeg

- by Alyson Shane

Saturday night for Valentine's Day John and I went all-out and made sushi and drank sake and had wine and danced our hearts out while belting out old songs from our teenage years. It was spectacular and amazing and perfect, but we didn't get to bed until 6am.

Needless to say I was feeling a bit fragile the next morning but rolled out of bed and got myself to Thermëa Winnipeg, which as it turns out is the best way to treat a post-Valentine's Day hangover.

I've been jonesing to visit the spa since the general manager, Frederic, gave me a private tour of the site last winter. At the time with all the dirt and construction equipment it was a bit difficult to picture how everything was going to turn out (though the images from the other Nordik Spa locations helped) but being there in person absolutely blew me away.

You can't take photos in the actual spa area but the photo below (swiped from the Winnipeg Free Press) gives you a basic idea of what it looks like:

Yeah, it's all outside. In Winnipeg. In the winter.

Basically you go from warm, to cold, to warm, to cold, to warm, through a series of saunas to dipping pools and it is so much fun! It was pretty cold and windy but the heated pathways and enormous fluffy bathrobes kept us warm as we scampered from place to place. 

The pool in the foreground in the photo is super cold, 10 degrees celsius to be exact, and you bet I took a dip in it like a champ after warming up in the Finlandia sauna (pictured on the left) - it was such a shock to my system and felt so good!

My favourite part of the experience was definitely sitting in the hot tub at the very end. It was pretty windy and frequently the steam would rise up and become so thick that I could barely see in front of my face, which was neat, and even though it was pretty busy the layout afforded us a lot of privacy.

The staff recommend doing the whole experience three times, which takes about three hours, though we only got through it twice because we're slow and spent a little too much time in the warmer parts of the sauna (whoops...) 

Overall it was an amazing experience, and definitely something that I'd recommend doing to break up the monotony of our obnoxiously long winters - also, when hungover. I felt like a million bucks afterwards.

Want to check it out, too? Yeah you do. Leave a comment on this post and I'll pick a winner to receive two free passes.

Thanks again to Frederic and the kind staff at Thermëa for treating us so right!


Had a blast at #CBCtweetupMB last night

- by Alyson Shane

Last night CBC Manitoba was kind enough to open its doors to us Twitter folk and host a party just for us! There was music, some familiar (and new!) faces, and the most delicious cupcakes courtesy of Constance Popp:

Natalie aka PegCityLovely was there with her selfie stick which was absolutely hilarious and outrageous - pictured is me (of course) Nat and RON! Amazing to see you in the real world!

The night was full of laughs, smiles, some BINGO winnings, my fab Hello Kitty temporary tattoos (thanks Vince and ChrisD!) and overall silliness.

The best part for me? Definitely taking a selfie with John Sauder on live television! HI MOM!

I even have a super-sweet story which I'll share with you guys in a bit - I've got a busy day ahead of me and sooooo much to do! Check out more photos from the event here.

Thanks so much to CBC Manitoba for hosting such a fabulous event! 


Why I Blog

- by Alyson Shane

Chris Brogan wrote a post the other day about not quitting blogging, which I loved. 

He didn't mention older blogging platforms like GeoCities and Livejournal, likely because he didn't used them but it made me think back to my early "web logging" days and discovering that I could chronicle my life online.

I purged my Livejournal years ago, thankfully, but a quick google search brought me back to many of my old high school friend's still-intact LiveJournals. 

It was weird, seeing those memories from over a decade ago all in one place. Now we have a plethora of ways that we share information: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat... to name just a few. Now we're scattered all over the internet.

The best way that we had to share information at that time was huge, text-heavy posts or quizzes. 

(Remember quizzes?)

It was weird, going back through people's memories and noticing that they all started to drop off around the same time (2007-2008). Except me. I kept blogging, largely fueled by my friend Kira and my recent discovery of the best blog of all time, the busblog

Back then, though, my blogging sucked.

I had no voice and no way to distinguish myself from blogging powerhouses whose lifestyle blogs I creeped to no end other than I hadn't yet figured out how to do what they did, yet.

But I kept at it because a writer will write even when nobody reads - and for a long time (longer than I'd care to admit) nobody wrote a damn word.

But part of the secret to blogging success is to not give up. I've had comment dry spells, I've been trolled to no end, I've written trash and masterpieces and been called out and praised for all of it. It's been a magnificent ride.

Andrew Sullivan said in one of my favourite pieces from The Atlantic that the blogosphere is a giant conversation, which is true, though I'd argue that everyone posting anything online these days is a participant - this isn't exclusive to the blogging community.

We're all shouting out into the void, linking and commenting and sharing in an attempt to make our own voices heard. He also said:

"[to blog] is to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others... pivot you toward relative truth."

Yet, just last week, Andrew Sullivan stopped blogging

One of the biggest proponents of blogging shuttered his blog and gave up.

Which left me wondering: if Andrew Sullvian quit, if all my old friends quit, if blogs die and are left abandoned every day... why do I keep doing it?

Because, as Tony said in a recent post: this is the best time to blog.

The fakers, the half-assers are dropping like flies and the ones of us who are here for the substance and the experience of sharing get to reap the benefits of an audience who are more interested, more engaged, who and will quite happily pivot us towards that relative truth that we all seek.

Blogging is scary. Blogging is beautiful. Blogging is how writers, like me, explore ourselves.

Before the internet we had to scribble in diaries or publish 'zines or write in to newspapers or journals or magazines or publish books hoping that someone somewhere would find them and fall in love with our words and our hearts, which we poured out through pens just as much as I type them out to you, now.

I was lucky enough to be born into a time when my words can exist digitally. 

My digital words, like those of my old friends, like those of Andrew Sullivan, can reach untold numbers of people. We can shape each other's realities through what we say online with words that never fade, never get lost, and that's amazing.

How could I ever stop, knowing that truth?

I can't.


Woke up early for Raw:Almond yesterday

- by Alyson Shane

For you non-Winnipeggers Raw:Almond is the annual pop-up style restaurant built on the ice of the frozen Assiniboine River. They do incredible 5-course dinners, cocktail & snack sessions, and an informal weekend breakfast which is divine.

I went with Adam and Brittany and John and also waved at Kevin and Laura K, who were also there but with different groups of people.

Because eating breakfast off of paper plates in your winter coat is all the rage.

All of the food is served at these huge, long public tables which encourages people to share the experience with each other. 

It's bigger than it's been in years before, with three separate tables to host all of the people that line up in the cold waiting to get inside.

It's heated but still so cold you have to wear your jackets and toques.

The food is divine, as evidenced by the photo above, and worth every penny.

We sat next to Bart Simpson, a filmmaker who was involved with writing a documentary called The Corporation you might have seen (if not, it's on Netflix!) who chatted about all sorts of things with us and took the photo at the beginning of this post. Hi Bart!

It's almost time for the restaurant to close for the season but if you want to know more check out this documentary that my friend Colin put together.

Stay warm, lovelies!

xox yr girl Shaner


Our Digital Selves

- by Alyson Shane

I'm watching Serial Experiments Lain which according to Wikipedia is an avant-garde anime from the 90's that explores ideas like identity, consciousness, reality and communication. 

I started watching it over a decade ago with my friend Eric, who also introduced me to Star Trek and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and the film The Thing and the Fallout video game series. 

This was also around the time that I started blogging, back in the days of GeoCities and eventually LiveJournal and (sigh) DeadJournal which was about as emo as you can get. After that I moved onto Blogger where I stayed for several years and iterations of my blog and also of myself, and then to Wordpress, and now to the blog you see before you.

I've been living my life online for more than half of the time I've been alive, which is both fascinating and slightly terrifying.

It's weird to think that there are snippets of ourselves scattered around the internet, these little scraps of ourselves that we leave littered in comments or status updates or blog posts. 

Like a trail of breadcrumbs leading from our past to future selves. 

In an email the other day my aunt, bless her heart, said "I hope you aren't too personal online because it could come back and bite you in the future" which is true but there's also a level of curated-ness that goes into who we are online, at least most of the time.

We have to be careful of how we represent ourselves and what we say because those words stay with us forever. The internet never forgets. 

On the other hand we've been handed this near-limitless tool to share and communicate and store memories, which is what a blog is when you get right down to it.

"Weblog" - remember that word? I barely do. 

So we walk this weird tightrope using these various tools which allow us to we curate these finely-tuned versions of ourselves, masquerading as "authentic" and, for people like me, attempting to do so without over-sharing too many personal details that could damage us or those around us.

Because we still have secrets from the internet. At least, for now.

But will we be able to, in the future?

In Serial Experiments Lain a girl kills herself and claims that she is able to live on in the Wired, which is the show's version of the internet, because she uploaded her consciousness prior to her death. I remember thinking about that while reading an article a few years back that discussed a statement made by Google's Ray Kurzweil, who made the claim that we will be uploading our minds and essentially becoming digitally immortal. 

There's something about that idea that terrifies me and I don't know what.

Maybe it's the idea of losing my physical body.

Maybe it's the idea of bearing all of my consciousness to the digital world.

Maybe I'm just too attached to my analog existence

at least for the moment.


An Ode to the Playground of my Youth

- by Alyson Shane

The Red River Community Centre
down the street from my house, a few short blocks away
on the corner of Murray Avenue and Donan Street
surrounded by ditches, a baseball field
hockey arenas lay empty and stinking of piss and sex in the summer.

Made with wooden beams and pillars
rough to the touch, watch out for splinters
picking them out of hands, feet, knees,
until there were too many and ignoring them became easier
than pausing a game to squeeze them out.

The slide that was removed before I can clearly remember
the empty wooden tower where it used to be
where I vaguely recall hot, silver metal glinting in the sunlight
the burn of it on my bare legs
sliding down towards welcoming, outstretched arms.

Sand instead of little pebbles
which got in your eyes when you fell down
or got kicked up during a game of Grounders
while scrambling to get from one surface to another.

The big, fat tire swing that was the beacon of summer
suspended by three thick chains in a plastic coating
sticky and black from hands and sweat by mid-June.

Under-ducks and spinning until we were nearly sick
almost hitting our heads on the overhead beams
grabbing on and spinning, suspended in the air
that time my brother kicked someone in the mouth.
Thank goodness they were all baby teeth. 

Monkey bars, hot to the touch in the afternoon light
seeing who could jump the farthest
past the first, second, third bar
each summer we got farther until we were too tall to jump
and could walk from one side to the other.

Riding our bikes in circles around the parking lot with no lines
just gravel and broken glass and prickly weeds
the occasional car with frisky teenagers in the back parked at the far end
tucked away from us and our raucous noise
exploring new landscapes with the windows half rolled down.

The community centre, barely a shadow of a building
made of white brick and smelling like used sports equipment
the crowded area where I would lace up my skates
and drink cheap, watery hot chocolate with my dad for .50 cents.

One year my parents signed me up for daytime summer camp
where we played sports and did arts and crafts
went on weekly trips to Kildonan Park or Fun Mountain or Oak Hammock Marsh
and I spent a furious afternoon trying to cut through a recycled paper plate
carving it into a snake which I decorated with markers and sequins
and lost while chasing frogs on the way home.

The park, like most of my childhood haunts, is gone
replaced by a monstrosity of steel and glass
which encompasses almost all of the green space where I roamed,
a skate park where the soccer fields and their empty metal nets used to be
fake palm trees where I laced up my first pair of cleats. 

I mourn for these places, now.
I wish that I had understood the humble, fleeting magnificence
of the happy, blissful, sun-drench days I spent there
eating gummy candies acquired from the gas station up the road
shaped like blue feet, kissing lips, fuzzy peaches
worrying about nothing except how late it was getting
and when I would be able to make my way back tomorrow. 


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