DESTROYING Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is one of the scariest roadblocks a writer can encounter- and unfortunately, it is almost inevitable!  Luckily, writers make for creative problem solvers.

Pia Chatterjee wrote a post in her On Writing Well series sharing her favorite means of overcoming writer’s block some days back.  She got even more great writer’s block busting tips in comments, so we thought we would do a podcast on the subject!

Listen in to this week’s podcast (How to fight writer’s block) for a collection of our favorite means of bringing back inspiration.  We hope you enjoy it, and if you have a tried and true method for getting over writer’s block that we did not cover, tell us about it in an email! Just drop us a line at podcast (at) HubPages (dot) com.

South by Southwest and HubPages

A very BIG THANK YOU to everyone who voted for Paul to speak at SXSW a couple of months ago. I am so pleased to be able to tell you that your hard work and commitment to HubPages paid off in spades – Paul has been named one of the speakers for 2012, and will be speaking in Austin on March 10th!

For those who are new to HubPages or haven’t heard of the SXSW (“South by Southwest”) conference, it’s an annual conference in Austin, Texas, that brings the most cutting-edge interactive, music and film innovators to one place for over a week of interesting discussions, product releases, and concerts. Our Hubbers voted for our idea at the SXSW PanelPicker, leading to Paul Edmondson being named one of the speakers at the conference. Given that there were 3200 proposals submitted, we are very thankful for your support.

Paul will be speaking to a crowd of web developers, designers, writers, and artists on how to recover their traffic, if their site has been hit unfairly by Google’s algorithmic changes. Thank you again, for liking our idea and taking the time to vote for it on SXSW’s site!

For those who may be interested, here’s the rest of the idea:

Bringing back the love when Google hates you

In a world where Google guards the gates of the Internet, the Panda update proved beyond reasonable doubt that every website is vulnerable to the search giant’s changes. While Google does a very good job, the vagaries of search algorithm updates result in decent sites losing a huge chunk of their traffic, leading to distractions of resources in trying to recoup their search traffic. In this discussion, Paul Edmondson will talk about unsuspected insights from his Panda-update experience and offer 5 key best practices that will help your site remain stable during future changes.

Evil Thoughts

Some of my favorite stories are very short- one needn’t create a novel to prompt a reader to think, escape, or react!

Evil Thoughts (alternately titled Could It Be?), by SpanStar, consists of a dialogue between a human and the Ultimate Evil. SpanStar submitted his own recording of the story, so we have the extra benefit of listening to a story read by its very author. Though the recording is short, I particularly love its ending.

Thanks for the story and the reading, SpanStar!

If you are interested in submitting work of your own (a Hub, a recording, or a suggestion) to the Fascinating Fiction series, drop us an email at podcast (at) HubPages (dot) com.

Mermaids and Mythological Sea Creatures

Mermaids! Where did they come from? Why have so many cultures built them in to their myths and folk lore? Join us in today’s podcast on Mermaids and Mythological Sea Creatures to find out!

Inspired by a request from Flora Flo on Facebook, we turned to two Hubs; one by Jane Bovary and another by kittythedreamer to learn more about magical sea creatures, and were surprised by much of what we read!

Be sure to stop by these myth-exploring (and busting!) Hubs for more fascinating information:

And big thanks to kittythedreamer and Jane Bovary for sharing so many interesting facts!

If you, like Flora Flo of Facebook, also have a suggestion for a future Weekly Advice from Everyday Experts podcast, send it to us in an email! Our address is podcast-at-HubPages-dot-com.

Where to Hunt for Writers!

Writers may have a reputation for being solitary, reclusive beings, but that doesn’t mean that they should write in a vacuum.

Sites like HubPages offer great means of getting feedback on one’s work… but sometimes written comments from semi-anonymous readers are not enough. Sometimes even the most solitary beings require in-person interaction.  The problem with interacting with other writers is that they can be difficult to find! Many writers are hard to identify (they don’t have a uniform, after all), and more often than not, the more dedicated ones are at home writing and not outside networking.

That said, Pia Chatterjee put together a blog post a couple of days ago about various places where one can hunt for writers. The post was so popular that we thought we would make a podcast on the subject (How to Meet Other Writers). We hope you enjoy it!

If there is a place where you have found a high density of writers that was not discussed in this podcast, tell us about it! Just send an email to podcast (at) HubPages (dot) com. We would love to hear from you!

How HubPages Moderation Works

Moderation Work Flow I attended a launch party for a new user generated content startup here in San Francisco three months ago. I asked one of the co-founders how they were going to handle undesirable content. His answer was to make the platform as open as possible and use automated systems to take down rules violations. He figured that they would eventually need to get a part-time person, perhaps an intern, to help review the more tricky issues. He even used the dreaded word “outsource” to describe what would happen if the site outgrew this process. His response was not an outlier. This is an unfortunate and common approach to content moderation among budding web companies. Having no plan for consistently and thoroughly enforcing a website’s Terms of Service results in user confusion and advertiser dissatisfaction. Maintaining a high standard of quality for a large user generated content site requires a dedicated, trained team of moderators.

The HubPages moderation team is six people strong, more than enough to handle our current workload and enough time for some of us to take on fun side projects, like being a judge for the HubPatron of the Arts contest. We handle most of the support emails sent through the contact us form, and ensure that at least three moderators are working every day.

Of course, an issue every company has to face is scalability. To review all 1,700 Hubs published every day, our moderation team would have to become larger than the full staff of HubPages. For a scrappy startup, growing a single department to this size is not possible.

To help bring the review process to scale, our engineers have built many wonderful and fabulous tools. First, they created several automated systems that run at all times. Our main system is affectionately known as the Maddie Bot, so named for Maddie Ruud, the HubPages Community Manager and first dedicated content moderator. Along with the Maddie Bot, we have over 40 filters that crawl all content on HubPages as it is created. These filters are fed words from several sources, including moderators who notice a pattern of negative behavior associated with a word or phrase (“umpteenth” is favorite of article spinners, for example). Anything the filter feels is suspicious may generate a warning for the author, and will be flagged for our review if it is published.

Another tool that might look familiar to Hubbers is the Moderation Hopper. Though it shares some DNA with the Hub Hopper, it is much more robust. This hopper is a HubPages moderator’s home base. From this tool, a moderator is taken to a flagged hub, where the content is reviewed and a moderation decision is entered into the database. Once this decision is saved, the moderator is taken to the next Hub in the queue automatically. This repeats until all the Hubs have been cleared, moderated, or republished.

Unfortunately, moderators and our trusty robots can only do so much. Along with our automated systems, we rely on Hubbers who familiarize themselves with the rules and flag content for moderator review. These flags are necessary for ensuring HubPages remains a high-quality option for authors seeking an open publishing platform.

Your Thanksgiving Checklist!

Thanksgiving has to be my favorite holiday in the entire year. All that unlimited eating and drinking, with the family gathered together around the table, with none of the stress around buying gifts and wrapping presents that accompanies Christmas… I must say there’s  nothing about Thanksgiving that I don’t love.

Except perhaps the planning. What to cook, how much to cook, how to accommodate my vegetarian brother-in-law; I can drive myself a little bit nuts during the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  I am sure that I am not the only one. So to help you in these next few days leading to the big Turkey day, here are Hubs that offer all the guidance you need.

First of course there’s the turkey. If you were planning on brining it this year, there’s no better resource than Marye Audet’s Hub, tellingly labeled How to Brine a Turkey! Already an expert on the brining, but need a bit of guidance on the actual cooking part? Who better than RedElf to help you! In the wonderful Hub, How to cook a Turkey, RedElf offers all the guidance she’s been saving for the day her son calls to ask for the recipe! Through her Hub, you get many years of wisdom, culled from many, many instances of cooking the thanksgiving fowl. But no, you say, roasting is so boring, you’ll be deep frying it instead? Well, please read Whitney05’s detailed Hub on the same topic, which includes some key safety measures and an equipment list.

But what about the vegetarians in your family? You had nearly forgotten about them, hadn’t you? Well, no more! Hubber Techygran will help you get this sorted with Vegetarian Turkey recipes. Like Marye Audet has got you sorted with a recipe for the all important pumpkin pie!

It’s not all about the eating and drinking, wonderful though it is. Thanksgiving is a time rich in history, as Chuck describes in his wonderfully researched Hub, aptly titled Thanksgiving.

Yet, of all the traditions surrounding Thanksgiving, my favorite one has to be the actual giving of thanks for all that we have received this year, and all that we are grateful for. For this, Hubber NaomiR has written a Hub on the top ten things she is grateful for, for which, I, for one, am most grateful!

[Image by D Sharon Pruitt / Pink Sherbert Photography on flickr]

The Snow Princess

Fascinating FictionOne of the fun things about writing fiction on HubPages is that the process can become deliciously interactive. In addition to getting feedback on your work, you may also get new ideas, suggestions, tips, and even challenges!

The latter was the case when it came to the creation of The Snow Princess: A Short Story by Website Examiner.  The Hub (or rather Hubs, since the first Hub evolved into a series) was inspired by Acaetnna who challenged him to write a short romantic story that had to include the words diamond, passionate, jealous, tantalising, and fragrance.

Listen in to this week’s Fascinating Fiction podcast to hear The Snow Princess read by Website Examiner (Morten Rand) himself!

Is there an awesome short story on HubPages that you think deserves more coverage, or are you interested in submitting some of your own narration (either of your work or that of another Hubber) to this series? Send us an email!

 

There’s Still Time to Submit a HubPatron of the Arts Contest Winner with Great Tips from stephhicks68

Because her Hubs are all-around masterpieces, you might not initially realize that stephhicks68‘s Hubs are filled with gorgeous, original photos, but they are! In addition to being an excellent writer and Hubber, stephhicks68 is a brilliant photographer, which is why we are so excited to have her on the poetry panel of the HubPatron of the Arts contest.

Whether you’re intent on submitting winning photo galleries for this month’s, or simply interested in adding more original photos to your Hubs, you’ll find the following interview with stephhicks68 to be interesting. She offers some great advice!

HubPages: When did you first start taking photos?

stephhicks68: I remember first experimenting with photography when I was at Girl Scout camp.  I was probably 11 or 12 and I used one of those old fashioned “Brownie” cameras my grandfather had given to me.  He was an excellent photographer who won local contests and often had his work published in tourism guides and on posters in his hometown.  Grandpa was definitely my inspiration.

What sort of camera do you shoot with?

Today, I use three different cameras (not including video cameras), depending on the subject and often logistics!  I have a digital SLR camera, a Nikon D60, that I’ve owned for about 4 years.  I have two lenses, a tripod and various filters.  I love the quality of the images, but its cumbersome to carry about.  For travel photographs, I often use my smaller Nikon Coolpix S6000.  It has a 7x zoom and 14.2 megapixels.  Good quality for a small camera.  Plus, I can mount it on a tripod, and it takes video as well.  With the improvements in cell phone cameras, I’m finding that they can often take decent photographs as well.  Often, my subjects are less intimidated by a cell phone, rather than a camera pointed in their direction.  And you can use some very interesting applications to make cell phone photographs quite artistic.

What do you think is the most common mistake beginning photographers make when taking photos?

Probably the most common mistake beginning photographers make is to wait for the “perfect” shot.  Now that most cameras don’t use film, you should just shoot away, changing your angle, zoom, perspective and experimenting with different lighting.  It’s easy to delete images that don’t work.  Change the settings on your camera from auto and see what happens.  Use of flash often washes out and flattens subjects, so unless you know how to bounce the light and stay the proper distance from your subject, I’d say turn off the flash.  In lower light situations, you’ll need a tripod because the shutter speed will slow down to allow for more light to enter and you don’t want a cool photograph ruined by shaky hands.

You have done a lot of travel photography- what sort of advice would you give to folks who want to take gorgeous photos while traveling abroad?

I love travel photography!  Its not very hard to capture beautiful images with just a few tips in mind.  Snapshots – poses in front of a building or landscape are not my favorite, but if you position people to the side of the viewfinder, or at an interesting angle – looking up from the base of stairs, etc., you might like the results better.  Photographing landscapes, vistas and natural settings should always be done without a flash.  If you have a portable tripod, I’d recommend using it to improve the sharpness of images.  When I’m traveling, I’m always looking for an interesting shot.  Perhaps some colorful awnings in a shopping district, or local people engaged in work.  Think of your photograph telling a story in a single frame.  What will your image convey?  Pull your subject in as close as possible and, if necessary, crop out distracting background.

As a judge on the photo panel of the HubPatron of the Arts contest, what will you be looking for in entries?

As a judge on the photo panel for the HubPatron of the Arts contest, I will be looking for excellent composition, compelling images that tell a story, creative use of light, and interesting use of digital image editing software.  I am excited to see the entries, and hope that Hubbers will have fun with this contest!

What tips would you give to Hubbers who would like to use more original photos in their Hubs?

For Hubbers that want to use more original images in their Hubs, I would say, just do it!  Often, we are our own toughest critic.  You might be surprised at the positive responses you will get when you publish Hubs with your own images.  Plus, using your own images makes you more of an expert on your subject.  If you are writing about a specific location, for example, using your own photographs will show that you were there and given your readers a reason to trust what you are saying in the Hub.

Cooking and recipe Hubs are a great place to showcase your own culinary skills.  Taking your reader through a step-by-step process of baking an apple pie, or making homemade ice cream with your own images will inspire your readers to follow your instructions, perhaps even more than a “generic” recipe article on the Internet.  The same is true with gardening Hubs, or any how-to Hub!  Once you get started, you may wonder why you ever used someone else’s images for your Hubs!

[Thanks, stephhicks68!]

For more information on the HubPatron of the Arts contest, visit the official contest page.

The Meaning Behind Tibetan Prayer Flags

Chances are you have seen Tibetan prayer flags before, but do you know where they came from and what they symbolize? These beautiful pieces of cloth are more than just decorations, and in a Hub titled History & Symbolism of Tibetan Prayer Flags, melbel explains more about their background and meaning.

Melbel’s Hub is so fascinating that we decided to feature it in this week’s Weekly Advice from Everyday Experts podcast, so listen in as we discuss The Meaning Behind Tibetan Prayer Flags. You’ll find that these mantra-adorned flags have a beautiful purpose, and one that everyone can get behind!

If you have something (religious, cultural, commercial, or entirely random) that performs a purpose similar to Tibetan prayer flags, we’d love to hear about it! Send us an email at team-at-hubpages.com. We’re also looking for cool new Hubs to discuss, so feel free to send future podcast suggestions our way as well.