Reminder to journalists: If you don’t build your own index, nobody else will

Today marks 10 years since I finally got around to self-assigning myself a weekly writing task: sum up where I’d written, spoken or been quoted over the past week. As much as I’ve sometimes resented having to bang out a “Weekly output” post when I’ve been jet-lagged, sick or both, it’s been time well spent.

The immediate upside of that first weekly recap of my work–which I chose to write on a Saturday for reasons that no longer resonate, then shifted to Sundays after a few months–was forcing me to write here more regularly. I’d have to inventory what I’d done to make a living once a week… and then I’d need to find something else to write about each week to avoid having this corner of the Web become a cringe-inducing exercise in self-promotion.

(Whether I have succeeded in that aspiration is a separate question.)

But as weeks of these recaps turned to months and then years, I realized that maintaining my own index of my work was my best defense against search-unfriendly sites and link rot. I can’t stop management at a client from breaking links or shutting down the entire operation, but having the original page addresses here means I can always plug them into the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to see if that worthy San Francisco non-profit squirreled away its own copies of the pages.

In more recent years, various services have stepped up to streamline the task of providing an index of your published output. For example, friends of mine seem happy with Authory, which charges $96 a year for automatic backup of your posts, including marketing and analytics features. I remain content with my DIY approach, since it keeps this chronological index on the site Google (and other search engines) most closely associate with me.

But if you write for a living, which tool you pick up to preserve your online work matters much less than your committing to take charge of that. You can’t expect employers or clients to preserve your online work for more than the first several years after publication; you need to do something for yourself, and if you didn’t start that a decade ago, now is still a good time.

Weekly output: Biden FCC nominations, Google opt-out for images of kids, Mark Vena podcast, Facebook Papers, Nielsen accreditation, Facebook renames itself Meta, Congress votes to veto Huawei and ZTE, Internet Archive

LISBON–After only experiencing the Web Summit through various screens last year, I returned to that conference’s host city this morning. I have four panels to moderate this week, which don’t seem like that much of a challenge after all the copy I filed this week.

PCMag FCC-noms post10/26/2021: Biden Nominates Rosenworcel as FCC Chair, PCMag

I really didn’t think I’d have to wait until almost November to write about President Biden picking a full-time chair of the Federal Communications Commission and filling the seat that’s been left open since January. Neither nomination–acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel to become permanent chair, former FCC advisor Gigi Sohn to take the vacant seat–is a surprise, so I’m still wondering what took the White House so long. 

10/27/2021: Google Adds Option to Wipe Images of Kids From Search Results, PCMag

Writing this allowed me to revisit the “right to be forgotten” debate and how Google users where I’m writing this have far more rights to have certain results hidden from queries than Google’s U.S. users do.

10/27/2021: S01 E15 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This week’s podcast had us talking up the FCC nominations as well as Facebook’s reliance on algorithms and Samsung moving to support the Matter smart-home standard. The video version suggests I should invest in some smart window blinds; I had mine closed to avoid bright sunlight oversaturating my home office, but halfway through the recording clouds rolled in, leaving me in the dark.  

10/27/2021: The Facebook Papers revelations, WWL

I talked to this New Orleans station (the folks there had me on in May to discuss streaming TV) about all of the bad news about Facebook we’ve gotten this week. 

10/28/2021: Nielsen on regaining accreditation: stay tuned, FierceVideo

I filled in at my trade-pub client to cover Nielsen’s earnings call, on which executives for the audience-measurement firm gave… measured answers to questions about how they would regain accreditation for their TV ratings service from an industry group.

10/28/2021: Facebook renames itself to Meta, Al Jazeera

Speaking of Facebook news, the news channel quizzed me about my take on Facebook renaming itself to Meta and recasting itself as a metaverse-first developer. I hope my skepticism came across fully in overdubbed Arabic.

10/29/2021: In Rare Bipartisan Move, Congress Votes to Crack Down on Huawei, ZTE, PCMag

It’s nice to know that even in these hyper-partisan times, Democrats and Republicans can still agree on some things–like their profound distrust of these large Chinese telecom firms.

10/29/2021:  In case you missed it: The Internet Archive turns 25, USA Today

This was a neat column to write–both because I learned some new things about how to use the Archive’s Wayback Machine, and because it let me remind readers of the time I wrote up my visit to the Archive’s offices in San Francisco for the Washington Post and then had Archive founder Brewster Kahle show up in that story’s comments. That 2010 piece, appropriately enough, now seems readable only via the Archive.

Weekly output: talking tech with Mark Vena, laptops, Controlled Digital Lending

Researching the second item in this week’s roundup reminded me at length of how much I miss going to large tech trade shows like CES and IFA to assess new gadgets in person. Seeing a new laptop, tablet, smartphone or any other device in a canned online presentation is a weak substitute for a hands-on inspection, and I look forward to the time when I can resume that part of my work.

3/23/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (3-23-21), Mark Vena

I’ve now been on my industry-analyst pal’s podcast enough times with the same two fellow tech journalists–Stewart Wolpin and John Quain–that Mark decided to make us regulars. This week, we discussed a topics ranging from the new federal subsidies for educational broadband to the Apple event that was supposed to happen this week, and we also ventured a few predictions. In addition to the audio above, you can watch the video version in the YouTube embed below.

3/25/2021: Laptops, U.S. News & World Report

This project followed the lines of the password-managers guide I helped write over the winter: After editors picked a set of contenders to cover, based on a reading of third-party reviews, I wrote profiles of each of them. (As in, you should not read the rankings here as my own judgment.) In this guide, I covered Apple’s Macbook Air M1 and MacBook Pro 16-inch; Asus’s Chromebook Flip, ROG Zephyrus G14, VivoBook S15, and Asus ZenBook 13; Dell’s XPS 13 and XPS 15 9500; Google’s Pixelbook Go; HP’s Elite Dragonfly, Envy x360 13-inch, and Spectre x360 13-inch; Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet and ThinkPad X1 Carbon; and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7. My contributions here also included a piece on what to consider when shopping for a laptop and a Chromebook-basics explainer.

3/27/2021: The Paper-To-Pixels Workaround Activists Want To Use To Keep Libraries Online, Forbes

“CDL” isn’t just shorthand for a commercial driver’s license; it’s also an abbreviation for Controlled Digital Lending, a framework for libraries to digitize printed books they own and then loan out those ebook copies on a one-for-one basis.  

Weekly output: LTE speeds, geospatial intelligence and police, reading deleted Web pages

LISBON–I’m here for my third Web Summit, where I have four panels to moderate (a late change having added to the three I already had on my schedule) and many more to watch and learn from.

As I write this, I’m listening to my friend Anthony Zurcher’s recap for the BBC of the election result that stunned me here last year. Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then, that’s for sure.

11/1/2017: Study shows US has slower LTE wireless than 60 other countries, Yahoo Finance

About half a year after writing about an earlier OpenSignal study of wireless-data speeds around the world, I covered new findings from that research firm that saw the U.S. backsliding compared to other countries. I wrote that we could see improvement if Sprint and T-Mobile gave up on their merger ambitions and focused instead on building their separate networks… and Saturday, each firm walked away from that deal.

Trajectory police-geoint feature11/1/2017: GEOINT for Policing: Location-based technologies offer opportunities for law enforcement, Trajectory

My first piece for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s quarterly magazine looks at how police departments are deploying data gathered from real-time sensors and street-level databases to try to spot crime as it happens–or earlier, if possible. It was a fascinating topic to dig into–not least when the CEO of one “geoint” firm agreed unhesitatingly with an ACLU analyst’s concerns about this technology’s possible misuses–and I’m now working on a second feature for Trajectory.

11/3/2017: After Gothamist: how to read Web pages that have gone to their grave, USA Today

I had started researching a column about data caps when news broke that billionaire owner Tom Ricketts had not only shut down the DNAInfo and Gothamist family of news sites (I miss you already, DCist) but had also redirected every story published there to his statement voicing regret about not being able to make money at the venture. I offered to write a quick explainer about how to use the Internet Archive and Google’s page-caching function to read just-deleted pages, which USAT had up by the next morning. That evening, Ricketts restored those pages, if not many journalists’ trust in the promises of wealthy, would-be newsroom saviors.

Weekly output: Verizon e-mail, Verizon Wireless zero-rating, 2016 tech politics, Telecom Act, Twitter timeline, tech we love, cord cutting, Google Play Music, saving Web pages

A three-day weekend is much appreciated after this week.

2/8/2016: Verizon won’t shut off email as soon as you feared, USA Today

The column I filed late on the preceding Friday got lost in the excitement of a Super Bowl weekend and so ran on Monday instead of Sunday.

2/9/2016: Verizon’s Free Video Deal: Will It Cost Us in the Long Run?, Yahoo Tech

This was one of those times when I have to set aside other work to cover a topic that’s jumped into the news–in this case, how Verizon Wireless exempting its own video app from its own data cap backdoors VzW’s net-neutrality obligations.

CompTIA D.C. fly-in agenda2/9/2016: The 2016 Election and the Tech Agenda, CompTIA DC Fly-In

I talked about tech-policy issues we may hear about during the 2016 campaign with the Glover Park Group’s Jason Boxt, Politico’s David Perera, and this trade group’s Liz Hyman.

2/9/2016: The Telecommunications Act at 20: How Congress Almost Managed to Predict the Future of the Net, Yahoo Tech

It’s crazy how much this law has affected our use of technology over the last two decades; whatever coverage it got before its passage could not have been enough.

2/10/2016: Twitter’s new timeline, WTOP

Twitter’s introduction of an algorithmically-curated view of tweets you missed doesn’t mean it’s turned into Facebook. Well, not yet.

2/10/2016: Let Us Count the Ways: The Tech We Really Love, Yahoo Tech

My short contribution to this post was a paragraph about how much I’ve come to trust Google Maps since handing off a writeup of Google’s then-new navigation site to my friend Anthony Zurcher 11 years ago.

2/11/2016: T.V. Viewing Options, Maine Calling

I talked to Maine Public Broadcasting radio listeners about dropping cable or satellite TV in favor of broadcast and streaming video–both of which can be tricky in the rural reaches of that state.

2/12/2016: Tip: Upgrade Your Songs For Free with Google Play Music, Yahoo Tech

I’d mentioned this option in a USA Today column last January, but that piece glossed over some of the steps involved.

2/14/2016: To save a Web page, look past your hard drive, USA Today

As I was finishing up this column Friday, I realized that my advice to use the Internet Archive to save a copy of a page was somewhat undercut by USA Today’s blocking of that site. Awkward!

Dealing with your work disappearing

If you were going to look up any of the tech-guide stories I wrote for Gannett’s NowU last year, don’t. NowU has become more like NotForU: Gannett stopped updating the site in the spring and shut it down a few weeks ago.

NowU closing noticeThis wasn’t the first time I’ve had my work vanish from the Web. My blog posts for the Consumer Electronics Association evaporated after a CMS switch, and all of the short updates I wrote for Sulia disappeared when that site closed. This time around, however, was better in one important way: My editor e-mailed me in late April to give me a heads-up about the impending closure of the site.

That note gave me more than enough time to save my stories as PDFs. At CEA, I had to rely on Internet Archive copies when management there let me repost some of those pieces here. At Sulia, I had neither a backup elsewhere on the Web nor advance notice of its demise, not that I was going to try to reproduce a few hundred microblog entries.

(The Internet Archive couldn’t preserve my stories at Gannett’s would-be hub for 45-and-over empty-nesters because NowU’s site was apparently coded to block it. That’s not how I would have run things, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.)

What I’m left with, then, is the enjoyment I derived from researching and writing those stories, the new sources I discovered in the process, the (generous!) payments that arrived on time–and, not least, the chance to sell stories about those topics all over again. If you’ve got a freelance budget and could use a how-to about WiFi and travel, international smartphone roaming, TV technology, or cutting the cord, please get in touch.