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Blellow: A New Kind of Career Site

Blellow: A New Kind of Career Site

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    Combining social networking and your career isn’t exactly a new idea. LinkedIn launched in 2003. But the idea of using microblogging to support your job hunt or freelancing career is relatively new. This week, Blellow launched; the social networking site uses a microblogging interface familiar to anyone who has checked out Twitter to create some impressive tools for your career.

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    Helpful Microblogging

    Making use of Blellow is just a matter of typing a few words and posting them. Those words are meant to be a response to the question, “What are you working on?” but can easily become much more. When you post to Blellow, you have two possible choices categorizing your post: “I feel like sharing this” or “I’m looking for help.” The general idea is that you can easily get help, answers to questions or share resources with other Blellow users — and so far it seems to be working. At a glance, people are posting documents (and getting replies about how to improve them), sharing usability tips and even offering up advice about patent law.

    In practice, there are a few minor differences between Blellow’s interface and other microblogging sites. For one thing, you get a little more room than the standard 140 characters to share thoughts and ask questions. In fact, you get 300 characters — and the ability to attach files. You can also switch easily between viewing posts as a list or as threaded messages, as well as switch between reading the posts of everyone on Blellow, specific groups and your own network.

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    But microblogging isn’t the only allure of Blellow.

    Jobs & Projects

    In addition to providing a community where anyone can talk about what they’re working on and get some feedback, Blellow also offers opportunities to find more work. You won’t just find full-time jobs listed on Blellow, either. The site’s ‘Jobs’ page is broken down into full-time and freelance listings — and there’s also a ‘Projects’ list which offers both paid and pro bono work. While the pro bono work may not get a lot of attention, there are a few interesting projects listed — which may provide an opportunity for someone wanting to break into a new field or get a couple of portfolio pieces.

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    There is an emphasis on work that can be handled remotely (design, development and writing), although Blellow does offer an ‘other’ category. You’ll find individuals working in those areas (whether freelancing, full-time or some combination of the two) are also more prevalent in posting to Blellow, as well as in creating groups. From the way some project and freelance listings are written, I think Blellow may be a venue for finding clients for a small business or a consultant in the future as well as for freelancers.

    Community & Networks

    On top of the ability to share short posts, Blellow offers many opportunities to connect with the other folks using the site. At the most basic level, you can respond to posts or privately message back and forth — not unlike a simple microblogging service. However, you can also find and join a wide variety of groups on Blellow: these groups are especially useful if you’re looking for help with a specific problem but they also are a chance to connect with others in your field, check out who is headed to a particular event or find resources on a given topic. You can also create new groups of your own if you don’t see a particular group you’d be interested in.

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    There’s also a real-world element to Blellow. Meetups — as in events that you actually leave your house to attend — can be listed on Blellow and shared. You have the option of browsing through those in your immediate area (as indicated by the location in your profile), those in your state or all of the meetups listed on Blellow. At the moment, pickings are a little sparse — but I’m pretty sure they’ll grow after everyone gets past SXSW. The Blellow team has an official launch planned for the site during SXSW and considering how well it’s done during the limited beta, it seems likely that the official launch will be big.

    One More Social Networking Site

    Trying to decide just what social networking sites you’re willing to spend some time on can be difficult. Personally, I tend not to mess with more than three or so at a time. However, I’m adding Blellow into the mix because it’s shaping up as a solid resource — especially for individuals whose work is done primarily online. There’s a good mix, so far, of freelancers as well as full-time employees, which makes for a useful network to be involved in. The fact that it’s got a narrow niche — especially compared to other microblogging sites — makes it an especially useful choice in my mind.

    Blellow brings a lot of elements into its mix, incorporating the best of microblogging, meetups and more. It isn’t trying to be the only social networking site you every spend time on. Instead, it’s creating a very targeted network involving people that who can help one another in their work. The only drawback I see at this point is that users are limited to email and actually visiting the site to get updates. I’m hoping for RSS in the future, personally.

    If you try out Blellow, please let us know what you think about it in the comments.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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