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You’ll Never Guess Why We’re Changing Our Blogging Approach

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By Adam Slight

We started this blog in January 2012 with the vision of developing our rickshaw tourism website into a source of entertaining, useful, and constructive information for Ottawans. It was meant to be a voice for those looking for a good time in Ottawa, and for those embattled with Ottawa’s seemingly unshakeable identity as a dull government town. Out of commercial interests we also wanted to create a reason for people to come to our website, learn about Ottawa Rickshaws, and ideally spend money on rickshaw rides.

This last part is important because it is the reason why so many small businesses consider starting a blog.

Our first blog article, "Why Your Should Take a Rickshaw Ride on Canada Day"

Our first blog article, “5 Reasons to Take a Rickshaw Ride on Canada Day

We were beginning to blog during a time when digital marketers hailed the production of online content as the key to business success. Start a blog, open a Twitter account, build your Facebook page following (by creating and sharing your content), become a “thought-leader” in your field and profit. In all honesty I can say that our blog was primarily built with the desire to create a unique voice for Ottawa–a “street-level perspective of Ottawa” as we called it–and I think we successfully did that. We started the blog, opened a Twitter account, and developed our Facebook following by sharing our pieces on Ottawa. We got to know Ottawa, and Ottawa got to know us in a way that has been much more enduring than the average seasonal business can say they’ve enjoyed.

Over the past two years we’ve made new friends, new partners, and new clients solely based of the daily articles we’ve continued to write on our blog.

But over those two years the digital landscape has changed across The Internet dramatically.

The Internet Has Changed

Since we started our blog in January 2012, Google has altered the way it indexes websites approximately 55 times. Over time Google’s algorithm has come to favour websites that are always adding fresh, relevant content, implicitly emphasizing to website owners that if you want your website to rank high in Google search results, you must continuously create new written content on your website–most commonly achieved through a blog.

Similarly, Facebook, which was once a small business’ most invaluable free tool for conversing with their customers, has changed the way it presents users’ posts on the newsfeed. Small businesses must pay Facebook for followers and pay to have their posts reach these followers. Facebook announced this week that it will be taking this strategy even further by rendering the Facebook business page more or less useless unless users pay to promote a post. It has also adjusted its algorithms over the last year to favour certain types of news-like articles on the newsfeed over, say, pictures of your friend’s baby.

And, heeding the advice of the digital prophets just about every business out there has some sort of social media presence where they are expected to produce regular content, whether through blogs, tweets, images, or videos (“Look at this Stone Aged business! They don’t even have Foursquare!!”)

Within this shifting online landscape I’ve noticed a difference in the way blogging was carried out in 2012 and the way it is now.

Google and Facebook are relatively small entities if you look at them as bodies of individuals relative to the world population of Internet users. Despite this, such a small group of people have somehow managed to gain an immense amount of control over how The Internet community creates, sorts, and disemminates information. The Internet–which was once imagined as a great democratized form of information-sharing –has ironically fallen into the control of an elite few. I really wonder if they realize that by exercising this control they’re turning their own domain into a pile of garbage.

In today’s Internet you either follow the rules that Google’s algorithm lays out, or your website gets thrown to the wayside–and no small business relying on web traffic wants to risk contending with such alienation. The result? Everyone with a website is creating constant, cheap, disposable Internet content in hopes of improving their Google ranking and maybe getting it shared around on Facebook.

Blogs of the Apocalypse

Now I’m a pretty big reader of various newspapers so I know that even when you’re paying a dedicated group of educated journalists a decent annual salary you don’t always get an interesting daily rag. Even CBC, our federally-funded national news entity has been running updates on the same three major stories for the past week.

So what happens when you ask someone who is untrained in the ways of journalism to produce fresh daily content with little or no monetary compensation? Well you get this:

linkedin2

This is exemplary of the boring, uninspired drivel you will find at the top of a Linkedin newsfeed, meant to invoke workplace contemplation, penned by some professional who believes that writing this crap will turn them into a motivational speaker (For the record, Richard A. Moran is a successful San Francisco venture capitalist–which doesn’t change the fact that his article is uninspired, asking the hard-hitting question “Are they really out of the office?”). Think I’m being harsh? Ask yourself: What do you have to gain from reading a long-winded piece on the “Out of Office” email? There is only so much superficial “thought” that you can write about the office workplace before you start to beat a dead horse.

If not boring and uninspired dreck, then what about this:

airline found

If you can’t even produce boring content, why not just write lies? This is exactly what many websites do to draw traffic to their sites (traffic that is actually generating significant revenue). Combine this with the fact that Facebook prefers to show you “news items” than baby photos and you’ve got yourself a newsfeed full of fake news (which I’m finding is more often than not the case these days). This is called click-bait: You create content that is irresistable to the web-surfer, who curiously clicks the link. This then generates pay-per-click ad revenue for the website. But the worst part? People actually believe this stuff and share it with their friends.

Speaking of click-bait:

upworthy

The latest in Internet trash is the viral content aggregator such as Upworthy or Viral Nova, which don’t produce original content at all. They simply find content that others have produced (usually an emotional video from YouTube), slap an enigmatic title on it, and watch the money roll in. The aggregator is Internet pollution, needlessly saturating the web by masking click-farming as curation. Lately sites like Upworthy and Viral Nova have been enjoying the most traffic as far as blogs go and putting the least amount of effort forward. As a result they are sapping advertiser money from the very sources that they draw their content from, which are often legitimate, deserving entities who actually know how to create stories and break news.

The Internet Garbage Heap

All the thought-leaders, fake news sites, and content aggregators have found ways to exploit the limited algorithms that Google and Facebook use to organize information for Internet users and the result is a widespread cheapening of The Internet.

The Internet has become, more than ever, a big pile of shit.

It is a pile of shit that captivates many of us for just about every waking hour of every day. We check Twitter when we wake up, browse

("Look smart. Look smart. Look smart. Look smart.")

(“Look smart. Look smart. Look smart. Look smart.”)

Facebook, Buzzfeed, and maybe our favourite local blogs throughout afternoon, then check out more Twitter in the evening to see what else is going on. Its a daily avalanche of sugar-coated, bite-sized, easily digestible Top 10 lists that more often than not have no bearing on life, place the consumer in a constant state of abstraction, and leave one distracted, zombified, or just mentally exhausted.

For the record, I’m not saying everything written on The Internet is garbage. There are some amazing, truly well-intentioned blogs and news sites out there–they’re just buried under a growing mountain of inconsequential stuff.

It is also worth referencing the writings of modern Twentieth Century philosopher Siegfried Kracauer who labelled this kind of mass entertainment as a “cult of distraction”–something of “elegant surface splendor” supported by a ruling class,  meant to distract the common people, and make them “unable to realize their dreams of a better life.”

Considering this distracting Internet is being engineered and micro-managed by a small elite group operating out of the richest part of the world it isn’t a stretch to conclude that today’s modern Internet is being constructed as a political tool at our expense.

Did the Caesars not use gladatorial games as a way of keeping the masses quiet? These distractions are encouraged by Google and Facebook as the two mega-corps accumulate more wealth, acquire more companies, and widen the ever-stretching gap between rich and poor.

Yet we continue to perceive Google and Facebook as fun and innovative companies.

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I have found myself becoming more and more disenfranchised with blogging in light of these changes. Our company first experienced frustration back when Facebook began to charge money to distribute our articles to readers. We tried paying Facebook for the first few months, but it just felt dirty. We are a small business and don’t get paid to blog, and I know this is a sentiment shared by many other small business owners in the world.

As I watched The Internet swell with “Top 10″ lists of every kind, many of which were lazy, sloppy, or borrowed from other websites, I began to resent creating them myself. I felt like I was simply adding to the heap, and I wanted to stop. I wanted to stop contributing to this superficial melange because I felt I had to.

That said, I continue to recognize that the Ottawa Rickshaws blog, along with many other notable blogs in Ottawa, do fill a niche in the city by producing locally-specific content that encourages civic engagement and locally based activity.

So we are making some changes with how we are approaching this blog. We will begin by dropping the precedence that we will be creating nearly daily content. Given that we are a small team with other pressing preoccupations in the business, such a claim can only inevitably lead to weak, lazy, or aggregated content from time to time. This doesn’t mean the Ottawa Rickshaws blog is finished. On the contrary, this is a step towards an even better blog, as we will only post content when we can assure it is of a high standard, thoughtful, and of a unique subject matter, opinion, or voice.

I’d like to also thank all of the people who have continued to read, contribute to, and support the Ottawa Rickshaws blog. We wouldn’t continue to do it if you weren’t there encouraging us (or even sending us hate mail, which is fun in its own right).

Finally, to the bloggers out there: I want to challenge you. The next time you write a piece because you feel you have to, think about what I’ve written here before you click “Publish.”

A Month in Review: October 2013

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We had a mild, colourful, and relatively dry October, filled with beer, pretzels, turkey, and more. Check out our top read Ottawa blog features of Octover 2013 if you missed ‘em!

imagejpeg_2_21-160x120Theses Old Newspaper Clippings From The Ottawa Journal are Fascinating and Racist

Discovered in the walls of an old home, these newspaper clippings from 1919 offer a vivid look to Ottawa and Canada’s past.

IMG_00000173-300x300A Sober Glance at Beau’s Crazy Oktoberfest Celebration Last Weekend

If you couldn’t make it Beau’s All Natural’s Oktobergest celebration or just forget everything that happened, check out our gallery here!

aL-feat1-300x208At Arrow & Loon It’s About Location, Location, Location (& Beer)

The Bear’s Amy Volume weighs in on the Arrow & Loon in the Glebe, dishing on beer, location, and its date-spot potential.

swizzle3-300x168Embrace Mortality at Swizzle’s Café in the Byward Market

I’m not going to claim that his Murray Street café is the best in the city, but his cheap all-day breakfast will sit in your gut in a way that will make you save on lunch and sleep all afternoon.

BluesWhat Are These Ottawa Entrepreneurs Listening To?

These Ottawa entrepreneurs were kind enough to share with me the music that motivates them and keeps them in the business zone.

A Month In Review: September 2013

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September marked a transition from Summer to Fall, a successful second year of Nuit Blanche, and

Alas, here are our top-read articles from September 2013!

nuitblanche image42013 Guide to Nuit Blanche Outdoor Exhibits in the Byward Market

The theme for this year’s Nuit Blanche Ottawa Gatineau was “Supernova,” which reflected the explosion of great exhibits we saw in the the Byward Market.

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Smile at Photos of Ottawans Posing with Oscar Peterson

The sculpture of Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson features an extra space on the pianist’s bench just begging for public participation.

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mayflower restaurantMayflower Restaurant to Close: The End of a Local Haunt

While reasons remain undisclosed, the beloved Mayflower Restaurant located on Elgin St. has announced that will no longer be open for business come this October.

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Picture1Wunderbar! Four Oktoberfest Celebrations in Ottawa

October is almost upon us and there are some great Oktoberfest  festivals happening all over Ottawa beginning this weekend!  The array of Bavarian-inspired food and drink to be had seems endless!

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fall in ottawa10 Things To Love About Fall in Ottawa

What is it about dying leaves and cold air that make us so happy when fall blows in? We took to Twitter to ask Ottawa what they loved about Fall in the capital.

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A Month in Review: August 2013

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By Ottawa Rickshaws

Another great summer is unofficially done.  With all the awesome summer festivals and events, fun stories we’ve covered over the summer, and important local issues we’ve discussed, we’ve had no shortage of topics to cover on this blog over the past few months.  Here are our five favourite articles from the past month.  There’s definitely a noticeable beer and Byward Market theme – I guess you know what’s on our minds in the summer!

byward_general

Why Does Ottawa Not Shop for Groceries in the Byward Market Anymore?

By Brian Clarke

We perform a little thought experiment to challenge the idea that is impossible to get one’s daily grocery needs from the Byward Market in today’s Ottawa.

A Review of Star Wars Identities at the Aviation and Space Museum

By Adam Slight

We give a nerd’s perspective of the Star Wars Identities exhibit that was held all summer at the Aviation and Space Museum.

steve beauchesne

An Interview with Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. Founder Steve Beauchesne

Interview conducted by Adam Slight

We talk to Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. founder Steve Beauchesne about a Beau’s newest project, the B-Side Label.

4 Secret Beer Brews to Expect at National Capital Craft Beer Week

By Adam Slight

With the National Capital Craft Beer Week held every August, we looked for some new, exciting and ‘secret’ brews to try from local microbreweries.

My Vision of the Byward Market is…

By Brian Clarke

My ideal vision of the future Byward Market is a series of pedestrian-only roads.  What is yours?

A Month in Review: July 2013

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By Ottawa Rickshaws

Summer is sadly winding down! July, with all its wonderful events and festivals, has always been our favourite month of the year and we're sad its over.  Before moving on to enjoy what's left of the summer, we look back at some highlights from a great month.

Here are five great pieces from July 2013:

Sky Zone: Ottawa’s Playground for Grown-Ups

By Brian Clarke

Photo credit: parentclub.ca

Photo credit: parentclub.ca

Ottawa's new indoor trampoline park is a great activity for kids, including those grown-up kids.

Disrupting Ottawa’s Culture of Quiet

By Adam Slight

Ottawa has a reputation of being a quiet city; but sometime we take this a little too far.

The Laff’s Drink Menu: Simple and Traditional

By Brian Clarke

Ottawa's Chateau Lafayette is a historical, traditional and laid-back tavern – and their drink menu reflects it.

What Ottawa Looks Like In the Summer

By Adam Slight

By @tmiller613

By @tmiller613

We decided to throw a little gallery together to show off Ottawa in the summer.

How Condos Could Help Ottawa be More Efficient

By Adam Slight

We argue that the urban sprawl Ottawa suffers and our unwillingness to accept downtown condos put an undue strain on taxpayers and public transportation.

zp8497586rq

Ottawa’s Problem with Road Congestion (Part 1 of 2)

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Photo credit: Ottawa Citizen

Photo credit: Ottawa Citizen

By Brian Clarke

This is the first of two parts of an article about an important and frustrating problem we have all experienced: road congestion.  Why is it split into two parts?

Well, in today’s half, I introduce the problem in a somewhat serious tone. It’s not really a new argument, but one that I think we all should be aware of if we are going to deal with the issue.  Tomorrow, in part two, I switch gears and take a bit more of a silly tone in attempt to answer my own questions.

Because that is how I deal with questions that I have no real answer to…

On the one hand, I agree that we Ottawans cannot complain about traffic as much as our neighbours in Toronto and Montreal, however, it is still a recurring problem that seems to rear its ugly head every summer.  With unpredictable weather, tons of construction every summer and a vastly inefficient transit system, our city’s roads can get very congested.

Add our huge suburban sprawl to this and average commute times in Ottawa end up being one of the highest in the country at over 26 minutes. For an idea of how huge our suburban sprawl is, consider that Ottawa has only 300 residents per square kilometer, while other large cities in Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) are all well over 4000! Even Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, have a population density of over 1000 – three to four times that of Ottawa.  Is this a case for high-rise condos in Ottawa?

City Hall’s solution to this issue is certainly respectable, albeit a bit utopian: encourage everyone to cycle to work.  They have a vision that by building and improving bike paths and lanes, more people will take a green option to get to work. If you build it, they will come.

As a cyclist, I love this attitude from City Hall.  However, I realize that it is not entirely practical – most people are still going to drive, no matter what.  This simply isn’t Europe – our North American culture is too dependent on cars.

Additionally, as pointed out by Alex Devries of Spacing magazine, there is a bit of a paradox of striving to improve green commuting. The nature of municipal politics and the fact that most electorates are car drivers means that City Hall must try to improve cyclist networks without inconveniencing drivers.

This is why the issue is such a tricky one, and why I have no serious answer.  It’s tough in city politics to make everyone happy.  However, I think all of these related problems – surburban sprawl, inefficient public transit, and road congestion all have the same underlying issue: our overdependence on cars.

If we can somehow become less obsessed with driving, I believe the suburban sprawl would slow down as many people would look for closer options, more pressure, time and resources would be put on improving public transit and most obviously, road congestion would diminish.  The question then becomes, how do we do this?

Before I give my completely ridiculous answer to this question tomorrow (because, again, I don’t have a serious, practical solution), I’d like to give you the chance to chime in.  Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page how you think (if at all) Ottawa can reduce its dependence on cars and consequently its road congestion.

zp8497586rq

A Month in Review: May 2013

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a month in review

By Ottawa Rickshaws

Ottawa Tourists: Beware When Taking Pictures in the Market

by: Brian Clarke

Brian had an interesting experience this weekend that can be used as a warning for future Ottawa tourists.

Please, Please, Please Don’t Drive Your Car at The Great Glebe Garage Sale!

by: Adam Slight

Ottawa-20110528-00082

The Great Glebe Garage Sale is an awesome Ottawa event – aside from the people who are too lazy to shop outside of their cars.

Regarding Ottawa’s Recent Award as “Most Boring City in Canada”: Some Context

by: Adam Slight

Some context for Ottawa's recent “award” as Most Boring City in Canada.

Ottawa Street Performers Silenced on Voice Amplification Bylaw, Health & Careers at Stake

by: Adam Slight

Paul Perreault performing acrobatics on the street with a microphone, as his doctor has ordered, but against a local bylaw.

Paul Perreault performing acrobatics on the street with a microphone, as his doctor has ordered, but against a local bylaw.

We sit down with two Ottawa street performers to discuss the bylaw that is jeopardizing their health, careers, and the economy of the Byward Market.

How Can Ottawa Adopt the #Pesky Identity as a City?

by: Brian Clarke

With the Ottawa Senators being dubbed the 'Pesky Sens' this season, we ask how the city of Ottawa can learn from and adopt the pesky identity.

zp8497586rq

Introducing Ottawa Rickshaws Travel Tips

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Ottawa Tourism the Right Way

By Ottawa Rickshaws

This summer, we will be introducing a new feature on our website and Facebook page: Ottawa Rickshaws Travel Tips.

This won’t be your typical tourism and travel advice.  We want to use our unique pedestrian point of view and the experience we’ve all gained running rickshaws to showcase Ottawa.

Ottawa is a city that is most often shown through one kind of top-down filter or another.  Ottawa Rickshaws Travel Tips are an alternative way to showcase Ottawa – from a rickshaw runner’s point of view.  They are tips for tourists visiting Ottawa, as well as local citizens looking to be a tourist in their own town.  These aren’t activities you’ll see from tour buses or aerial photographs of Ottawa.  Ottawa Rickshaws Travel Tips are designed for the casual Ottawa pedestrian.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook to see our Ottawa Rickshaws Travel Tips, or check out the full gallery here.

Ottawa Tourism Tip - Ottawa Locks

You Don’t Need Twitter to Be Social: An Engaging Experience with Ottawa’s Wine Station

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Me bottling my homemade wine at Wine Station.

Me bottling my homemade wine at Wine Station.

By Brian Clarke

Everything you read about business and marketing these days revolves around the same ideas: use social media and engage your customers or you will be left in the Dark Age of business marketing.

While I do agree that not using social media sites will leave your business at a competitive disadvantage, I think there is a danger in assuming that if you just set up a Facebook page and Twitter account, your business will be successful.  It’s about what these new tools allow you to do, and what they make easier and cheaper for you to do that is important.

That being said, you don’t need social media to be a social and engaging business.  In other words, it not about the tools you’re using but how you’re using them.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to share the wonderful experience I had with Wine Station, a local Ottawa business in the south end of the city.  Wine Station’s business model is simple: you go to make your own wine. They supply the ingredients, the equipment and most importantly, the knowledge and instructions, while the customer makes their wine.

But how is this social business?

If you read the advice about how to use social media for business, some common tips are: educate your customers about your products, allow your customers to interact and communicate with you, and provide them with a fun engaging experience.  Wine Station did all three without me – the customer – ever going near a computer screen.

They educated me about the wine making process, and explained very clearly what was happening at each step.  They provided an interactive experience, in which I worked with a Wine Station employee and truly felt like I was involved in making the product.  And most importantly, it was fun.  The staff was friendly, knowledgeable and made the experience great.

Our wine-making experience was so fun, we were drinking on the job!

Our wine-making experience was so fun, we were drinking on the job!

I’d recommend any wine lovers in Ottawa to check out Wine Station and make an order for your own wine. If you drink a lot, it is cheaper in the long run.

However, the moral of this story is that social media tools aren’t a saving grace for any business.  It’s what you do with them that matters.  Using Twitter doesn’t make a business a ‘social business’, but what is behind that Twitter account does: people.  Having good knowledgeable employees who provide customers with good service and an engaging brand experience is what makes a business social.

Whether you use social media or not to achieve this is irrelevant.

Month in Review: April 2013

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By Ottawa Rickshaws

The summer season has finally arrived, but before packing away our jackets and boots, let’s take a quick look back and some of the most read articles from spring.

8 New & Exciting Things to Look Forward to This Summer in Ottawa

By Adam Slight

We take to Twitter to ask Ottawa what new and exciting things it is looking forward to this summer.

newandexciting

Top 5 Burgers in Ottawa

By Brian Clarke

Looking for a good burger in Ottawa? Brian shares his top five burger joints.

Photo by Brian Clarke

Photo by Brian Clarke

“A Huge Injustice”: Montreal Ikea to Oust Ottawa’s as Largest in North America

By Adam Slight

Montreal is planning to take the crown from Ottawa for having the biggest Ikea in North America. We can’t take this sitting down!

ikea

More Reason to be Optimistic about Ottawa’s CFL Team

By Brian Clarke

While perhaps a little too optimistically, we think the signs point to Ottawa’s 3rd CFL franchise being successful.

Photo credit: Canadian Football League | cfl.ca

Photo credit: Canadian Football League | cfl.ca

What Can Ottawa Learn from Toronto’s Condo Boom?

By Adam Slight

We look to Toronto’s condo boom to figure out what we should look out for should Ottawa follow a similar path.

Photo by Marc Massie - www.marcmassie.com

Photo by Marc Massie – www.marcmassie.com