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UK freelance journalist and author Sean McManus

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Wild Mood Swings on BBC Click

06 July 2009

My mood surfing website Wild Mood Swings was featured on BBC Click on Friday, and you can see the video and read the write-up at the BBC Click website.

The journalist said: "Whoever made it has really done a good job of hunting out some great content to put behind the moods."

If you like the kind of odd and fun stuff in Wild Mood Swings, sign up to my new monthly newsletter. If you're reading this on my website, there's a link on the right hand side now. If you're reading this in an RSS reader or on Facebook or somewhere else, visit my blog and then use the form on the right.

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New book and newsletter

01 July 2009

If you've been following me on Twitter, you might have seen that I've just signed a book contract. It's a non-fiction book that will be coming out early next year and I'll have more details to share soon.

In the meantime, I'm starting a free email magazine. Once a month, I'll write a short newsletter about interesting stuff I've found online. I'm looking forward to writing some snippets about online games, music reviews and so on and I'm hoping that the newsletter can work as a publication in its own right.

It will also provide me with an opportunity to tell people about my books when they come out, and hopefully to help start word of mouth around them where appropriate. The email newsletter will also enable me to keep in touch with people who don't visit this website regularly or don't subscribe to the RSS feeds or Twitter feed, but the focus will very much be on adding value. I want this to be a publication that people enjoy receiving and reading.

If you'd like to subscribe (thank you!), there's a form on the right hand side of this page right now. Just enter your name and email address, and (optionally) let me know what content you're most interested in on this site. When you click the button, you'll be sent an email with a link in it. You need to click that link to confirm your subscription, to make sure that people don't sign others up.

If you previously subscribed to one of my mailing lists, I'll drop you a line, but please do sign up using the form if you've got a couple of seconds. It'll save me a lot of time! Thank you!

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New look website launches

29 April 2009

I've just relaunched this website, with a new look and feel. I recently got a larger monitor and the old design wasn't easy to use on that, so I've made this design fluid within certain parameters. I've taken the opportunity to update the layout, fonts and colour scheme, and to add a few fun/random interactive features. I've tried to integrate the different types of content better, so that it's possible to more easily move between the different experiences the site offers.

I've still got some stuff to tidy up and check (but do let me know if you spot anything that's broken), and I've got a few pieces of new content in progress at the moment.

The site should work acceptably on most screen sizes and I've tested it on the PC using IE7, IE6 (shudder!), Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It doesn't look the same in them all (it's best in IE, because I've used font embedding extensively), but it works fine. Let me know what your experience is like (particularly if you're using a Mac).

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Virtual book signing tool in this month's Writers' Forum

05 September 2008

Writers' Forum magazine coverGosh! It's a good week for book PR. Writers' Forum has published a great story about the tool I've created to enable books to be signed over the internet. It uses a virtually unknown feature of Internet Explorer to send a font of the author's handwriting over the web. The technique enables dedications to be customised with the recipient's name (and potentially, other details too). You can try the tool out by getting your copy of 'University of Death' signed now.

It's great story in the magazine, half a page including my photo and a cover shot. It's nice to be mentioned in the same story as Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, too.

I've offered to help other authors to set up the same facility on their websites. Drop me a line, if you're interested. You'll need to have FTP access to your server, but if you're happy with that, then I can talk you through the steps to get the rest of it working.

Writers' Forum issue 85 is available now from WH Smiths (and probably some other shops too). Nice joke on the front cover about writing for Australian markets, too, with the strapline printed upside down.*

*(It would have been funnier if the article had been laid out upside down, particularly if the unrelated right hand column had been left the right way up. But I guess there has to be a line somewhere.)

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Wild Mood Swings updated

22 August 2008

One of my other websites, Wild Mood Swings has just had a major update, incorporating lots of new moods and weeding out some sites that don't offer a great experience any more.

Wild Mood Swings enables 'mood surfing' - you pick a mood and the site whisks you away to a website appropriate for that mood. Sometimes the sites you're shown will reinforce your mood and sometimes they will attempt to change it, but the hope is that each visit provides a fun or satisfying user experience.

The site was originally hosted here at sean.co.uk and will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. I'm hoping to raise its profile - it gets lots of positive reviews on social networking sites but that hasn't translated into many organic links or blog posts about it.

Any feedback on the site or how to promote it appreciated.

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University of Death: virtual signing tour

11 June 2008

Book cover: University of DeathI've created a virtual book signing program and posted it on this website. Because copies of 'University of Death' go straight from the factory to readers, the only way that readers could get their copy signed was if they met me and happened to be carrying their copy of the book at the time.

Now, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can get your book signed and dedicated online, using an authentic handwriting font.

Because this requires font embedding, this feature is only compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

University of Death:
Download the first two chapters | Author interview | Buy now

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The website's been fixed. What next?

09 June 2008

If you're a regular here, you might have noticed I've redesigned the website. With today's wider screens, the content was becoming difficult to read on larger screens and the layout was getting messy. Having fixed column widths should make it more readable. I've also taken the opportunity to create a handheld stylesheet, tailored for the Nintendo DS, so that the whole site should work on the DS browser now, as well as on other devices that use the handheld stylesheet. I've created a web clip icon for the iPhone and iPod Touch too, and I've weeded out some dud links and images and generally had a spring clean. I found some strange differences between IE and Firefox when updating my Javascript games, but it all seems to be working fine now. Let me know if you spot anything that still needs attention. It's been time consuming, but now that's done, I can start thinking about content again.

There's a couple of articles I've already promised, and a couple more I've been wanting to write for a while. When I get some time, I've got plenty of ideas for things to write in my notebook.

I hesitate to say this, but I'm also batting around an idea for another novel. I'm not sure I have the energy to devote to writing a book at the moment, although it's tempting to try blitzing it Nanowrimo-style, to see how much I can write in a month. The idea concerns another facet of popular culture (not the music industry this time), and would have a different tone to University of Death.

It's not the first idea I've had since finishing UoD. I had one idea that I can now see was rubbish, although it was briefly exciting. But this new idea is gnawing at me. It's got to the stage where I'm dreaming about bits of it, so I might just try a little writing experiment soon to see if it goes anywhere.

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My novel University of Death: Available now!

01 December 2007

Book cover: University of DeathI'm delighted to say that my satire of the music industry 'University of Death' is available now, exclusively from Lulu. You can preview the first two chapters now.

When you order it, your copy is printed and bound and sent to you in a sturdy cardboard box. The book is 380 pages, and 6x9 inches (which is a bit like a hardback without the hard cover). The book costs £9.99 plus shipping, which varies depending on where in the world you are.

In my last quality check, I still found things I would have liked to have done slightly differently, but the book is definitely ready for the world now and any more editing would be tinkering and procrastination (which as we know is fear in slow motion).

After working on this for about two years, it does feel odd to be sharing it with the world now. Karen was the first person to read it when I'd finished it, and when we discussed it, it felt strange to hear her talking about people like Dove and Bigg, who for such a long time had lived in my imagination alone. I'd never heard their names spoken out loud before. I am excited that new readers will be meeting them for the first time soon and discovering their story.

This is kind of a soft launch to blog readers. I am planning to put together a corner of this website about the book, which will include an author interview. If you've got any questions you'd like to pose about the book or how it came together, feel free to email them over or put them in the comments here. In exchange, I'll try not to be too much of a luvvie in the answers. I'll also be putting together a few special features and a book preview in PDF that's easier to print.

Phew. Now I'm off to relax with a Chinese take-away and a silly film with lots of explosions in. Perhaps later I'll have a celebratory game of Beach Head.

PS: The book makes an ideal Christmas gift (hint, hint - but not for me, I've got plenty). Lulu took nine days to deliver my latest copies this week, which is slower than its usual target of printing in 4 days, but you should still be able to get copies in time for Chrimbo. According to Lulu's Xmas shipping dates you have a week to order in the UK (longer if you pay for express shipping or are in the US). Consult the list for shipping dates for other countries.

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10th birthday update: accessibility, affiliate marketing and more

11 February 2007

This site celebrates its tenth birthday round about now and to mark the occasion I've given it a spring clean. Some content has been removed, but nothing you're likely to miss (do tell me if I'm wrong - perhaps I'll bring it back again). I've improved the design, particularly the navigation. It should be easier to explore and find what you're looking for now.

I've also added lots of new/old stuff from my archives.

I wrote, I think, the first big story in a UK web design magazine about accessibility, published in Internet Magazine in 2000. Today any decent website designer is aware of accessibility, but back then few people were interested. The editor at another magazine turned down a pitch on the subject, saying it was a minority issue of no interest to businesses.

Over the years, awareness of accessibility has increased. But I know many people still struggle to understand why they should and how they can create a more inclusive website. And I know a lot of designers can't be arsed, and their clients, who are ultimately responsible for the accessibility of the sites they buy, let them get away with it.

I've now added some of my later articles explaining accessibility to my webmaster tutorials. I hope that they will inspire more people to consider users with disabilities in their website designs, and will provide some helpful guidance on eliminating the biggest barriers.

The accessibility stories (new and old) are:Internet Works magazine commissioned some monster stories from me in 2004 about affiliate marketing and web analytics. Some of the interviewees might have moved jobs, and some of the minor sites have disappeared, but the advice is still valid. For that reason I've uploaded those stories too.

In the journalism resources section, there's a new article about writing for the web.

The quality of the scans of rock and pop photos has been dramatically improved, and this is now reflected where they are used in the music articles too. My list of places where you can promote your music has also been refreshed.

Finally, there's a new gallery of photos of Sydney, Australia. One of my pictures of the Opera House was part of an architecture exhibition in Paris last year. There's a much cleaner scan of that too.

If you want to see what the first version of this site looked like, there's a screenshot of this site from 1997 here. It would have looked right at home on geocities.

Here's to the next ten years. Cheers!

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Happy Christmas

21 December 2006

Ho Ho Ho! Well, it's nearly Christmas, so here are the links to the two Christmas games I made for my advent calendar for those who missed them:

The advent calendar will stay online for a bit, and you can go back and browse any days you missed.

Thank you for supporting this site during 2006. I wish you a happy Christmas and hope to welcome you here again next year.


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New: RSS feed

02 November 2006

I've added an RSS feed to this site, so that you can keep up with this blog from the comfort of your own news reader. RSS readers enable you to gather headlines and content from different sources in one place. The latest version of Google Reader is free and well worth checking out.

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JournalismCareers.com: Author promotion article plus discount coupon

13 October 2006

Following my talk for the Society of Authors in February, I've written an article for the society's magazine 'The Author' (Autumn 2006 issue). It's a beginner's guide to setting up a website, aimed at authors. It includes links to helpful resources and some guidelines on the cost of operating a website. The emphasis is on simple, cheap and practical tools. You can read it at the JournalismCareers.com website now.

ebook cover: Journalism Careers - Your Questions AnsweredFor a limited time, readers of this blog can benefit from an exclusive discount of 25% off my ebook 'Journalism Careers - Your questions answered'. The ebook answers 64 top questions I've been asked about working as a journalist by visitors to my websites. Spread over 108 pages, it includes plenty of practical advice for those starting out or looking to switch careers. It's designed for comfortable reading on screen but can also be printed. Bonus material includes time planning sheets, a commission checklist, and a 19-point article quality checklist. The ebook usually costs £8.95 or US$15.95 before the discount (sales tax may apply).

To benefit from the discount, enter the code SEAN-2F1Q when prompted. The coupon expires on 12 November 2006. This is the only price discount that has ever been offered on this ebook and it is not available through other websites.

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Wild Mood Swings relaunched

30 July 2006

Wild Mood SwingsWay back in 1998, I created the first version of 'Wild Mood Swings', a toy that lets you pick your mood and then whisks you off to an appropriate website for that mood. I relaunched the site in February 2003, with its own website at www.wildmoodswings.co.uk.

It's been described as like a mini-Stumbleupon by users of that popular social bookmarking site and has surprisingly been bookmarked with the tag 'Web 2.0' at del.icio.us. It's also been submitted to digg a couple of times without me noticing.

Those proper Web 2.0 sites are great ways to discover new online experiences. The difference with WMS is that it has one editorial voice, and the moods used to reach the websites don't always describe them. If you're feeling sad, for example, you're more likely to be taken to a site to cheer you up than a site full of misery. There's also a high standard of quality control, so that all the clicks should be worthwhile in some way.

I've just refreshed the site, introducing over 65 new moods and online experiences. I've also changed the mood attributed to some of the older experiences that are still in there, so if you're a regular visitor you might spot what appears to be duplication for a short time. There's a new Google search box on the page too, so it's more suitable for setting as a browser start page.

Wild Mood Swings: How do you want to feel today?


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Copyright matters

25 March 2006

I'm going to stick my head over the parapet now and write something unpopular: Copyright matters.

I know it's trendy nowadays to be all loved-up and say 'hey, man, let the data flow free like a river'. I have great respect for the work of the open source movement, and for the work of the Creative Commons. But just because some people choose to relinquish some of their legal rights, it doesn't mean everybody else should be forced to.

As you might know, I'm pretty defensive of my copyrights. In this post I'll explain some of the reasons why.

Creators should choose how stuff is used

One of the issues that is often overlooked is one of choice. Even a Creative Commons licence gives you a choice over which rights you give away. You can, for example, say content is free to use provided it's not modified or that it can be used only in non-commercial projects.

But a problem with the Creative Commons model is that it assumes you want to assign permission based on usage, and not on who is making that use. I'm pretty politically aware, and there are some organisations that I would never grant permission to use my creative work. I would never want my work to be used against the causes I believe in. There are even individuals with whose views I disagree to the extent that I wouldn't want to actively help them. The law gives me the right to choose on a case-by-case basis who can and can't use my work.

This has nothing to do with free speech, by the way: Just because I respect and defend your right to express your views, it doesn't mean I should help you express them.

Time matters

Anyone want to mow my lawn for free? Go on. I'll tell everyone you did a great job. I thought not.

Time is the scarcest resource we have. Some of us will have more than others (we won't know how much until the end), but we've all got the same number of hours in the day, and days in the week. Working out how to spend it is what life's all about. Respecting how people spend their time is respecting their lives.

Over the last (nearly) ten years, I have spent a lot of time making content and building this website. Content is quick to consume, but slow to create. Writing games takes days. Writing an article can take half a day, once research is factored in. Even taking and scanning photographs is a fairly big job, even before we've factored in the time taken travelling to places to photograph. And let's not even start talking about how long it takes to write a book.

Don't get me wrong - I love it. That's why I do it. But if I've spent my limited life force making things instead of watching TV, it seems only fair that I choose who benefits from that. The law gives me the right to exercise control over how my work is used.

Derivative works are just that

A derivative work is when you take one thing, and then build upon it to make another thing. It's a more creative endeavour than just copying something, and the people who create the derivative work often add value. But they often cause problems too, and I have a right in law to decide who can and can't make derivative works from my material.

There are corners of the internet where people are still cursing me in a foreign language following a dispute over an unauthorised translation of one of my articles. I know that the translator who broke copyright law was only trying to make some ideas more widely available, but the end result could be the exact opposite. Now that I've had the exclusive translation rights stolen from me for that language, I can't license a major publisher to use it (which would have potentially communicated the ideas much more widely). For the record, I tried to reach a compromise where I published the translated version on this website but the translator was unresponsive. The article has been pulled from circulation.

Derivative works also restrict my creative freedom. If I make something, I'm free to adapt and modify it how I like. If somebody else independently alters it and makes new works, I'm having some of my creative options taken from me. Either I can't then do what they've done, or there is another work out there with which I must compete despite creating the original source material.

I do respect the time that people spend in creating derivative works, but request that they also respect the time that I spend in creating source material. If you're interested in translating content or creating derivative works, please contact me. I'll work with you if I can, but reserve my legal right to say 'no'.

Let's talk business

Just because you're not prepared to pay for something, it doesn't mean it doesn't have a value. While many people can and do set up websites for free, I actually write cheques to keep this website online. I also incur real money costs creating content (software, hardware, training). I've put over 300 pages of original content online and nearly all of it is free for you to read.

This is made possible by advertising, and the products I sell, including licences to use my copyright material. By charging people who want to make certain uses of my content, I'm able to publish lots more content for free. If I let people put my work on other websites for free, I end up competing with my own work for the traffic that helps pay the bills. That's the economics of it.

You might think I could avoid all that by just giving the content away, so that other people pay to host it. I can see how this might work for certain types of content. I've allowed unmodified copies of my websafe colour palette program to be circulated freely. But we come back to the control issue again (see above), so I don't allow my other work to be copied in this way.

In certain cases, I will grant a free licence to use my work. In other cases, I will make a charge. You might be surprised at how friendly I am, if you drop me a line.

Copyrights do have a commercial value and they are a part of my wealth. Anyone taking my copyright material is stealing some of my livelihood.

Credit where it's due

It's a buzz when someone says they like what you've made, or that they found it useful in accomplishing their own goals. Knowing the identity of the creator of a work also changes your perception of it. The law gives me a right to be identified as the creator of my creative works.

There are a couple of common web practices which interfere with this right:

I really appreciate people linking to this website to help spread the word, but please link to a HTML page and don't use frames. Don't make it look like you own my content. Ask if you don't understand or you're not sure.

Fair use

I'm not trying to restrict your rights here - just assert my own. So I don't have a problem with people reproducing short excerpts for the purpose of comment provided they're accompanied by a link to the original source. I don't have a problem with people using images from this site as their windows wallpaper on their own computer, although I do have a problem with them passing those images on to others. You're welcome to print out any material here for your own use, but not to circulate it without permission. If you're not sure what's allowed, please drop me a line.


If you've got any comments, please email me. I'll update this article with them later.

For the avoidance of any doubt, none of the above and nothing in the comments grants you any rights in relation to my content. If you want to make use of my copyright material, you are required to contact me first.

There are lots of 'contact me' links in the above, because I get particularly annoyed when people don't ask. I'll negotiate if you ask. I won't, if you don't.

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JournalismCareers.com relaunched

22 December 2005

ebook cover: Journalism Careers - Your Questions AnsweredI've relaunched JournalismCareers.com, including a new edition of the ebook which answers 64 of the most commonly asked questions about journalism. The relaunch includes a fresher design and new content (including some fun stuff).

The new edition of the ebook comes with bonus content to help you put some of the key ideas in the ebook to work. For a promotional period, the ebook price has been discounted by a pound.

I set up JournalismCareers.com as a response to the many questions I was receiving by email from people who were researching journalism as a career. The site first launched in August 2003.

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Virtual Newspaper updated

26 October 2005

I've updated the Virtual Newspaper. As well as having breaking news from the BBC and IT news site The Register, it's got a new dictionary search and a daily sudoku puzzle.


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Radio Sean.co.uk launches

23 October 2005

I've lost count of how much time I've spent lovingly creating mix tapes over the years and it recently occurred to me that the idea could be extended online. What if I could create a compilation of great online music I've found, and enable it all to be accessed from one place using a simple Flash interface? With today's launch of Radio Sean.co.uk, I've done just that.

Listeners benefit because they can listen to a consistent programme of hand-picked music, skip tracks they don't like, and discover new acts. There are links to all the band websites so listeners can get more music by acts they like. There's no DJ banter, so the listening experience is much like playing a CD.

Bands benefit from extra exposure and from being played in a radio-like context where the idea of listening to the programme has already been sold. They don't have to convince anyone to download anything to hear their music.

You'll need Macromedia Flash Player for it to work and broadband for best results.

As of now, there are ten tracks from eight acts with a few more pencilled in to be added. All the acts included have given their permission.

Why not pop over and have a listen and tell me what you think?

I've also posted Fifteen top music promotion tips today.

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Virtual Sean updated

17 July 2005

In December 2000, I wrote an article for Internet Magazine about creating virtual helpers and avatars for your website. Since then, Virtual Sean has been chatting with visitors on this site, using both on-screen text and a free speech plug-in.

Cartoon of SeanThe cartoon I drew of myself five years ago doesn't look very much like me any more, and I've always wanted to return and improve the interactivity. Now I've given Virtual Sean a makeover using graphics from Janina Norn's South Park Studio. I've also added in animation and given his language skills a boost.

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A blog is born

26 June 2005

There are two reasons for starting this blog.

Firstly, the Blogger tool will make it easier to make quick changes to this site. Cutting the time spent on maintenance will free up more time for content creation. Which, at the end of the day, is the whole point of having a website.

Secondly, a blog is an ideal 'dustbin' for all the ideas and postings that don't have a more natural home to go to on this site. This includes short opinion pieces and 'what's new'. It will also enable me to document work in progress on bigger projects.

Although the comments section can be the most dynamic part of a blog, I'm not accepting them at the moment. It's too open to abuse and spamming and I don't want the burden of checking everything, otherwise the first reason for creating a blog will have been defeated. I hope to enable comments at some stage in future.


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