Write Faster – Free Voice Recognition Software

Microphone - useful for free voice recognition softwareHere’s a useful tip: It’s far faster to dictate a book than to type it.  That’s a quick-writing trick I learned from Jason Fladlien, and it’s worked for me for years.

I used Via Voice (originally from IBM) for a long time, and loved it.  With some training, the program was 95% – 98% accurate, and I liked how I could enter specific, unusual phrases that I use often.

Now, that old program doesn’t work on my newer (Windows 7) computer, and I was thinking about picking up a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking, which has earned great reviews.

(If you’re going to get one of the Dragon programs, look at versions with all the bells & whistles you might need, so you can do things like input from a digital voice recorder.)

[Update: I bought an older version of Dragon that had the best reviews. It’s Dragon 11 Home edition. Out of the box, it’s better than the free Windows software. However, if you’re on a budget, the Windows option works just fine.]

Before you buy Dragon:  Did you know that Windows has a (free) voice recognition program already in it?  Yep.  And, from my experience, it works better straight out of the box than my well-trained Via Voice program did.

Weird, eh?

When I began using voice-recognition software, I’d tried a headset, but it gave me a headache and I suspected that the microphone wasn’t good enough to record consistently.

Then, I used a USB Samson Q1U microphone with a foam cover (“windscreen”) for the mic to prevent pops from being interpreted as parts of words.  The quality was excellent, and I used this same mic for my podcasts and Skype interviews.

2016 update: I’m now using a Blue Snowball mic.

I may still buy the Dragon program.  I’ll see how often I’d actually record/dictate while I’m out walking or in the car.  For now, the Windows program is working fine.

For best efficiency, I outline my book first… chapters and main headings.  I print that out as my “script” and then I start dictating what’s going to fill in the book.

Then, I print that out, double-spaced, and edit it, away from the computer. If I’m not rushing through a project, I like to edit my work so it’s in a journalistic style, with few extra words and no fluff.

Click here for 'Cult of Done Manifesto' poster download pageNote:  Be sure to keep enough style and color in your book that it’s not totally dry & boring.  If it could be read, convincingly, in a “Joe Friday” (Dragnet) voice… throw in more colorful words and anecdotes.

Then, I type in the edits and call it good.

(Over my desk, I have the text poster for the Cult of Done.  It’s a good reminder to just complete the work.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!  I do edit… but just once.  More than that can lead to stilted language and frankly, most readers either don’t notice or don’t care about an occasional, minor grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.  That’s not an excuse to be sloppy, but — for someone like me — it’s important not to micromanage the book for so long, it never gets published.)

If you’re running Windows 7, here are the instructions to set up the software and use it:  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/What-can-I-do-with-Speech-Recognition

2016 update: I did buy Dragon Naturally Speaking, but I chose an older edition (11), not the current one. The older one cost less and had far better reviews.

Out of the box, it’s the best voice recognition software I’ve tried.

However, the free Windows speech recognition software is still a close second-best.

Who Are Your eReaders? Two Infographics Explain.

When you write a book in any format, it’s good to know who your readers are.  It helps you write with a voice that reaches them.  You might also discover the kind of language to use, how many illustrations they’ll like, how long (or short) the book can be, and so on.

Here are two useful infographics.  Click on either one to see it full-size, at the website where I found it.


Content Curation – Know Your Target Audience

Globe - DaVinci referenceContent curation requires more than a “shotgun” approach to your niche.  You cannot be all things to all people.  Focus is essential.

Choosing your focus — and your target audience — is a two-sided challenge.  First, there’s what you’re interested in writing about, and have time and resources for.  Then, there are the interests of your target audience.

Every writer in every media needs to understand the market.  This may start with the level of expertise among your target readers.  A blog written for a novice in the field will include information very different from the analyses and extrapolations necessary if your audience includes industry leaders.  If your target is an entry-level audience, you may confuse them (or even bore them) if you use industry-specific terminology and focus on complex and subtle issues.

By contrast, if you’re writing for industry leaders, their busy schedules prevent them from wasting time on blogs that don’t include innovative and relevant news and concepts.  Their assistants may read and summarize what you’ve said at your website, but the actual opinion leaders in the field… they won’t bother to sort through the blather or text added merely to increase the article’s word count.

Time can be the ruling factor as you identify your target audience.

A curated, entry-level article can be assembled in as little as 20 minutes.  They’re more interested in your links as education; they aren’t ready for extrapolated predictions.  In fact, part of your curation may be explaining why each link is relevant.  Talking to beginners, this could be as simple as saying, “This article is important because ________.”

As those readers become more educated and proficient, they’ll start scanning (or skimming) your articles for what’s most important.  In time, to maintain them as followers, you may need to add a second blog or section to your website, specifically for their rapidly-advancing information needs.

Nevertheless, when you’re writing for entry-level readers, the curation process usually takes less time.

By contrast, when you’re writing for industry leaders, a curated article can require two hours or more.  You’re bypassing trite resources and conclusions that may be “old news” to your readers. Your goal is to maintain loyal followers who often say, “Interesting.  I hadn’t thought of this in that context.”

For some corporate, C-level readers, it may be enough to compile a series of diverse curated references.  They’re bright enough and experienced enough to connect the dots.  You’re simply saving them time finding those gems of information.

For example, someone in fashion may be interested in startling trends in street fashions, plus a few references to exceptional costuming for an upcoming movie.  Explaining why you made your curation choices… that may be redundant and annoying.  Anyone with a solid background in current fashions can spot what’s new and exciting in the influences you’ve linked to.

For other executives, especially if the information will be filtered and delivered via an assistant, you may have a higher ratio of editorial content to curation.  In other words, you may explain the trends as you see them, and use curated references as supporting information and “for further reading” asides.

In fields where intellectual property rights and copyright are taken very seriously, it may be vital to summarize the impact of the reference, followed by a simple link.  Extensive quoting can be a liability if you’re stretching “fair use” protocols.

Tone of voice is also important.  A readership of fans may appreciate a very personal connection to the writer.  Jokes, slang, and “insider” phrases may help develop loyal readers who identify with you.  (By contrast, you could develop an online persona that’s the writer fans “love to hate.”  If you’re choosing that path, use a pen name as a buffer.  Overzealous fans can turn a perceived insult into a personal crusade.)

Professionals may want a personal “voice” when you’re writing, but jokes can look like filler and slang can become outdated in weeks, damaging your perceived value as someone who’s not only current but forward-thinking.

If you’re writing for a global audience, especially those with limited language skills (or those who use the translate option on your website), use a more literal vocabulary and restrained tone of voice.  Keep cultural nuances in mind, as well.  (The book, Essential Do’s and Taboos: The Complete Guide to International Business and Leisure Travel, is a good starting point.)

As I said earlier, these decisions can be a two-sided challenge.  On one hand, you must evaluate your resources, including the time you can invest in content curation as well as the availability of references.  Linking to an online article is easier and faster than curating information you found in a book, or learned at a week-long seminar.

The audience you’d like to reach is equally important.  There’s nothing wrong with having a “Mom blog or Dad blog.”  That approach can attract a broad audience of loyal fans, followers, customers and clients.

However, if your target audience is in the “C-suite” (CEOs, COOs, and so on), you’ll need to be very sure you’re providing in-depth information and insights that are worth their time.

First, understand your own interests, expertise and resources, and those you can acquire.  Then, examine the best target audience for what you can offer via content curation.    Aim to deliver what they need, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Curating Curated Content

explosion of ideasCurating curated content isn’t just a tongue-twister.  If past curation patterns are a guide, curating curated content will be an upcoming trend. (I talk about that history in my book.)

What does this mean?

Well, when you’re curating curated content, you’re surveying sites that have curated content, and you’re referencing that curation in your own curated article or  post.

In other words, you’re not referring to a link you found at Drudge Report; you’re actually mentioning Drudge Report, perhaps quoting their blurb or editorial reference to the original content, and linking to the Drudge Report instead of (or in addition to) the site they linked to.

Confused?  Maybe this will make it clearer: You’re surveying sites that include curated content, and including links to specific posts/articles at the curated sites, when you talk about your niche topic.

In simple terms, it’s next in a series of steps in content development, online.

Phase one was original content: Articles and other content that were created by an individual for his or her own website.

Phase two was derivative content: Sites that referred to that original content, with or without links, and sometimes without mentioning where the information came from.  This includes quoted content,  referenced content, and — a particularly grim example — “spun” content.

Currently, derivative content may make up 80% of existing websites, or more. Google and other search engines try to filter out blatantly scraped content. The task is daunting, and search engines often lose the battle.

Phase three — growing rapidly, as of 2012 — is curated content.  That is, annotated content gathered (and linked to) from other sources.  Most curated content includes excerpts and/or references to at least two or three other resources, most of them online.

Tip: Often, search engines can’t respond intelligently when someone is looking for the latest news and trends in a particular niche. A curated site can. It’s current and it has a bias. The latter is important.

Phase four will be a response to the explosion of curated websites.  It’s becoming necessary to curate those resources.  For example, you might create an article about a political issue.  You’d include comments about relevant content at curated sites such as Drudge Report and Huffington Post, and videos at Newsy.

And, because there may not be enough good curated sites to link to, you’d probably include some original content links, as well.

It might be a little early to start curating curated content in your niche. But, if you niche is something like politics, it might be relevant now. In that field, you’ll find many posts at a wide range of excellent curated sites.

In turn, those need to be filtered to meet the specific interests of your readers.

Should curating curated content be part of your future?  Maybe.

In business, it’s essential to be an innovator or an early adopter of trends.   Watch for upcoming trends in your niche, in general. Keep them in mind as you plan what’s next — and what’s after that — for your business.

In the field of curation, those who curate curated content are among the innovators and early adopters.  It may be something to watch for, in your niche.

Attracting Traffic with Curated Content

crowd“How do you drive traffic to your curated sites?”  That’s what a reader asked me today.

It’s a good question.  Here’s what I told him:

The great thing about having powerful, well-curated content is that it’s easy to attract traffic.  Word-of-mouth spreads quickly, so you just have to get the ball rolling.  That can be done in whatever way works for you.

The content should attract and drive traffic.  If it’s not good enough to stand on its own, you probably need to improve it.

However, even the best, new website needs to send signals to the search engines so they find you.  For small businesses, online, my defaults used to be a Squidoo lens pointing to the site, some intelligent articles at eZineArticles.com, and a few Facebook posts.  If I had time (rare), I’d comment at related blogs, especially if they had CommentLuv.

Now, I’m more discerning about where I post. G+ has been good, but nothing stays constant, online. So, keep your ear to the ground and see where most related discussions go on.

From my experience, once a dozen or so people have visited a site with rich, juicy, intelligent, and original content, they’ll tell others in that niche.  (Don’t expect similar results if you’re automating your content.  For this laid-back approach to work, your posts must stand out in the crowd.)

It’s key not to devalue your site by looking spammy or desperate for traffic.  That’s not just being mindful of Google’s Penguin update.  It’s also part of the impression you’ll make on potential clients and customers.  As Clay Collins commented, even new, kitchen-table businesses need to look like businesses, not garage sales.

I try always to put a Feedburner sign-up form on each site.  Really, the vast majority of subscribers seem to think I’m emailing them, personally, when I post a new article at the site they’re following.

For my sites featuring curated content — not books — I’ve tried email lists. I know that many people swear by them for income. So far, I’m not impressed.

I tried Aweber lists for about four years and my results were equally good with Feedburner emails.  Once again, this is about important content, not an ongoing garage sale or pitchfest.

Likewise, I don’t aim to get to “#1 at Google in 24 hours,” like a lot of people do.  Instead, I go for steady, increasing traffic that grows organically.

That makes my sites pretty much immune to algorithm changes at search engines.  Example: One of my sites currently gets 80k visitors/month… not huge, but it’s pretty good for a site I’ve never promoted at all.

Remember: Good, unique content is the Holy Grail of the Internet.  It’s not quite “if you build it, they will come,” but it’s pretty close.  Aim for great content, including lots of curation, and — with minimal effort, just to let people know your site exists — I think you’ll attract traffic.

Driving traffic is important, but a good website can be close to self-sustaining.   When my numbers aren’t as good as I’d like, I add powerful content and I try to be one step ahead of popular trends.  (In technical terms: I try to be at the “early adopters” end of the Diffusion of Innovations bell curve.)  Then, I make sure people know about it.

Once people decide that they can’t afford to miss my posts, and sign up for Feedburner emails or add my RSS to their reader, word-of-mouth takes care of the rest.

Curating Content? Be an Early Adopter!

Diffusion of Innovation and Ideas
Where are you in your niche?

If you want powerful content that earns raves and links in social media, you’ll need to be an Early Adopter or even an Innovator.  (That refers to the Diffusion of Innovations, also called Diffusion of Ideas, meaning: The ways in which new ideas travel organically through a community.)

Innovators are the people who go way out on a limb, testing new ideas.  The vast majority of those ideas will fall flat, but a sparkling few will be picked up and adopted by Early Adopters.  They’ll explain the idea, and perhaps modify it slightly, so it’s more appealing to a broader audience.

That’s your job as a curator of news in your niche.  You’re an Early Adopter… one of the first 20% (or less) who spot what’s important in your field, and tell others about it.

This means being one step ahead of the trends.  You’ll need to keep your virtual ear to the ground. Stay on the alert (or at least on Google Alerts) for things that can spark interest, trends and even fads in your niche.

Find important, breaking news. Share it. Then, comment on it, explaining why it’s important and what you think of it.

That can make your curated content extremely valuable to your readers.  It’ll turn visitors into rabid fans who never want to miss one of your posts.

The focus for most successful curators isn’t on traffic, marketing, outsourcing, or the latest bells-and-whistles for website design.  (Take a look at the Drudge Report.  That guy hasn’t significantly changed his website design in over 10 years.)

Curators focus on what’s new and important.  They’re Early Adopters or — at the very latest — early members of the Early Majority.

By the time you’re on the down side of the Late Majority, you’ll also see a far lower conversion rate.

The “sweet spot” for conversions is at the first half of that curve or at its peak.  After that, most of your website visitors have less money to spend and they’re reluctant to part with it.

Curation isn’t for the casual niche observer who’s only in it for the money.  Curation can’t achieve anything close to full impact if it’s managed by a plugin or people who barely speak English.

Successful content curation is achieved by people who are dedicated to their niches.

Not sure? Read Seth Godin’s book, The Dip.

If you can’t be the very best in your niche or subniche, don’t even bother to start.  What he says about The Dip applies to content curation, too:  Your website should be “sharply-defined, newsworthy, interesting to write about, easy to tell friends about.”

Curation can’t be effective if — paraphrasing Godin in an interview with Guy Kawasaki — you’re playing it safe, or if your website merely says, “Me, too!”

You have to go out on a limb.  You must embrace all the risks of being an Early Adopter, knowing that you’ll be wrong now and then.

In fact, you might be wrong often, but at least you’re being interesting when you’re wrong.

With practice and increasing understanding of your niche and the people who make up its Early Majority, you’ll be wrong less often. 

Yours will become the must-read website with the latest important news and curated content about your niche.  You’ll become the person to quote, and your website will be the one people link to.

Content Curation – Is everyone happy?

Book cover - StanierYesterday, I was reading an absolute gem of a book, Do More Great Work by Michael Bungay Stanier.

In that book, he says, “If everyone’s happy, then you’re not doing Great Work.”

Keep that in mind when your website includes curated content.  If everyone’s happy, you’re not opinionated enough.

If people wanted a completely unbiased resource for their information, they’d use Google or another search engine.

Instead, they turn to you for your judgment and viewpoints, to filter the mass of content online. They trust you to share only those articles, videos, MP3s and other links that are noteworthy.

They’re putting their time — a very valuable commodity — in your hands.  Are you worthy of that trust?

If all you do is fill a page with links that match your keywords, or every related link you can find, regardless of its merits, you’re cheating your readers.  That’s not curated content, it’s just content.

The following article raises many excellent issues related to content curation.  The article’s list of no-nos is especially good, pointing out the difference between quantity and quality, as well as issues of attribution and compensation.

Are you in danger of a content curation cop-out? :: Target-Info.com


Around my house, we often say: “The content monster must be fed.” These days, with the popularity of content marketing, organizations are struggling to keep from being gobbled up by their content monsters. Curating content

All of those are factors in curation: Are you including important resources?  Do you clearly attribute your references and links?  Are you nurturing those resources so they flourish and continue to provide the world with exceptional content?

Remember, you're the filter.
Remember, you’re the filter.

It all starts with your opinions.  They lead you to choose certain resources and omit others.

Your opinions are the foundation, sparking your interest in some people and what they say and do.

Those same opinions can trigger you to cruise quickly past those who are less interesting, with your foot on the accelerator as you look for the next, interesting resource.

Your opinions are a large part of what makes you a valuable curator. You can voice those opinions editorially, in your comments, and attract a niche following as a result.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can try to be as unbiased as possible in your comments with each link or reference.

However, even then, your opinions matter, as you’re the filter deciding which links to include and which to leave out. Overt or covert, those opinions are the core of your success, and lack of them could be your downfall.

When you curate content, at least a few people should be irked.  Maybe they won’t like what you’ve said.  Perhaps they’ll object to what you’ve linked to or what you’ve omitted.

If everyone’s happy, that probably feels better than receiving angry comments, flames in your email, and being the target of tirades in forums.

However, if you’re not opinionated enough to annoy some people in your niche, you’re simply not opinionated enough.

To paraphrase Mr. Stanier: If everyone’s happy, you’re not doing great curation.

Content Curation, Curation Nation, and Stephen Rosenbaum

“The era of the we-web,” is how Stephen Rosenbaum describes today’s worldwide web, in this video that explains why curation is vital.

He’s right.

This 15-minute talk from TEDx starts with a bit of a downer, showing clips from Rosenbaum’s movie about the effects of 9/11.  However, he then explains how our lives practically revolve around the Internet.

If you feel that curation is “just a trend,” this video explains why it’s going to be an essential part of our lives from now on, and why it will keep growing.

Content curation has been around as long as the Internet has.  Content curation can be summarized in seven words: “Look at the cool links I found!”

Good curation includes far more than that.  It explains why each link is cool.  A smart curator gives extra insights about the subject, the links, which are the best ones, and so on.

But anyway… yes, watch this video.

“The world needs thoughtful thinkers.  It needs us.” — Steve Rosenbaum

Content Curation and Scanners

Busy woman on two phonesContent curation appeals to scanners.

I don’t mean the scanner on your desktop… the one that photographs documents, etc.

I mean scanners who are busy people. They’d rather read the Cliffs Notes version of a long article than every single word of it.

They’d also prefer to read a summary of a good book.

Recently, I attended the Kindle Celebrity webinar about this issue, recommending Kindle books consisting of Cliffs-Notes-style summaries of books. (That wasn’t an affiliate link.  I like the ideas in the webinar, but not enough to buy the course.)

That concept of curating and/or summarizing content is excellent.  The success of Cliffs Notes, Bathroom Readers, etc., support that.

Last week, Seth Godin also mentioned the problem with things that are too long.

Seth’s Blog: “Too long”


You’re going to hear that more and more often. The movie, the book, the meeting, the memo… few people will tell you that they ran short. (Shorter, though, doesn’t mean less responsibility, less insight or less power. It means

When it takes too long to stay current in a niche, curated content is the answer.

Curated content also helps scanners as described by Barbara Sher:

To Scanners the world is like a big candy store full of fascinating opportunities, and all they want is to reach out and stuff their pockets.

People like that love curated content.  They can survey the big, fascinating world faster and stuff their pockets with more, juicy trivia when they visit a website like yours.

So, when you’re including blurbs, make sure you’ve chosen the sentence or two that conveys the essence of the article.  Or, make sure you’ve summarized why that article is important.

If it’s important enough, your readers will click to see it.  If they’re too busy, they’ll be grateful for your summary; that’s all they need, for now.

Curated Content – Why it works, when it works

Curated content must be unique. It should include the best, most fascinating news and ideas in your niche.  It must be remarkable.  That’s what makes curated content so tasty, people are greedy for more.  That’s why people will link to your curated post, rather than to the links in that post.

See, if all you do is buy a plugin or software, type in your keywords or phrase, and say, “Sure, why not?” as you add those blurbs and links to your post… your post will look like every other marketer who’s doing the same thing.  If it’s an autoblog plugin, it’s likely to duplicate the posts of everyone else who’s in that niche, using that plugin.

Big yawn.  Maybe your mother will be impressed, but your readers won’t be.  Search engines won’t be impressed, either.  They’ve seen this before.  Why should they smile on you?

Real curated content is juicy.  It’s unique.  It’s so cool, people tell others about what you said, the sites you linked to, the videos you included, and so on.

Real curated content is remarkable. That’s what works.

Let Seth Godin explain the importance of remarkable work.