off topicThis website is billed as “a ton of useful information about screenwriting,” but I have many interests that don’t fall within that framework, no matter how broadly I try to stretch it.

So as a way to service these off-topic interests, I’m happy to introduce Off-Topic.

Off-Topic is not about screenwriting. At least, not primarily. It’s structured as an ever-expanding list of sites and real-world things that I find interesting, useful or disturbing. The accompanying blurbs are a lot shorter than traditional johnaugust.com posts, just long enough to help you decide whether it’s worth it for you to click-through. Every headline on Off-Topic points somewhere off-site.

Daring Fireball’s linked list was my most obvious inspiration, but kottke and others have implemented their own strategies for micro-posting. From a site owner’s perspective, the advantages are mostly about time. The average post on johnaugust.com takes me between 15 minutes and an hour to write, which is one reason I don’t post daily. These linked-list postings, however, take less than a minute, so I suspect you’ll see a lot more of them.

In the right-hand column, you’ll see the link for Off-Topic, which is a page that shows the fifteen most recent entries. For now, you can bookmark this page, or just click-through from the front page. At some point, I’ll implement a graphic to indicate that there are new links in Off-Topic.

Why the separate page? Well, there are different techniques for implementing micro-posting, each with its own pros and cons. One option is to mix the links in with “regular” blog content (a la kottke), which ensures maximum visibility. Another method is to keep the links separate from “real” editorial (such as Daring Fireball). I chose door number two, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It was much easier to implement.
  2. It keeps the non-screenwriting stuff separate.
  3. It let me set up new RSS feeds just for the Off-Topic stuff.
  4. I could leverage del.icio.us to do the heavy lifting.

That last one was key, because del.icio.us is ideally suited for the task. The system uses tags to sort and classify the links. A very cool side benefit is that any user can subscribe to an RSS feed of just the topics she finds interesting. For instance,

http://del.icio.us/rss/johnaugust

will pull up all the links I’ve posted. But if you only want links that pertain to screenwriting, you can subscribe to:

http://del.icio.us/rss/johnaugust/screenwriting

You can have your feeds, your way. Since the postings are so short, they’re ideally suited for RSS.

What do I expect to put on Off-Topic? The tags tell the story.

  • Books. I read a lot. A lot. Mostly, it’s non-fiction, sometimes tangentially related to what I’m writing.
  • Reviews. Particularly if I strongly agree/disagree with the reviewer.
  • Funny. Random things.
  • Screenwriting. Okay, it’s not officially “off-topic,” but if I find good stuff on other sites, I’m more likely to link it here than on the front page.
  • Geek. Lotsa geek.
  • TV. Lord knows I love me some idiot box.
  • Gay. I don’t write a lot about gay issues, but other people do.
  • Parent. I’m having my first kid in August, so I’m sure stuff will come up.
  • Projects. When I encounter interesting links to past or current projects, you’ll see them here.
  • Mac. The best darn computers in the world.
  • NSFW. That’s “Not Safe For Work.” Or for minors. Or my Mom. Or the easily offended. I won’t be posting a lot in this arena, but better to take me at my word. (The individual links will also say NSFW, just to be extra-clear about it.)

The best part about the del.icio.us tagging system is that I can expand/modify tags as needed, so that if there isn’t a good category for something, I can just make a new one. It’s a lot more flexible than traditional blogging taxonomies.

The biggest drawback to implementing Off-Topic this way is that there’s no easy method for feedback. Unlike normal johnaugust.com entries, there’s no comment section for Off-Topic. For the time being, the best bet is to email offtopic@johnaugust.com for anything related to the list. I’m sure a better system will come along shortly.

For now, explore.