Blogging 101 Archive
February 19, 2006
Posted by Kathleen Vandervelde
Is it a good idea for top company executives to blog?
Writing for Information Week back in July, General Motors chief Bob Lutz praises blogging as "a hugely effective communications tool and a terrific way to conduct a grassroots, largely unfiltered conversation with GM fans and nonfans alike."
His FastLane Blog, online since January 2005, is "a way for GM to be culturally relevant," he says. To be effective, Lutz and the GM senior execs who contribute to the blog know they have to keep things real:
The key is to leave the corporate-speak behind and keep the tone conversational, open, and honest. Anyone who has read our blog sees the real deal, as produced by us and not polished by several layers of trained communications pros.
But Is It Worth Anything?
Of course the big question is always about return on investment. Is blogging worth anything, especially when you're talking in terms of the cost of the big guy's time and attention vs. even the slightest bottom-line gain?
I've come across a couple of success stories that might help sway even the most doubtful CFO.
GM's Lutz credits the blog -- a marketplace conversation -- with the development of the new Chevrolet Camaro concept car:
... the secret is finally confirmed: we introduced a Chevrolet Camaro concept car.
If I had a dime for every time I've read the word 'Camaro' in your comments on this blog in the past year, I could have financed the concept car out of my own pocket! And I would have! I like it that much.
If anything, it proves that we've been listening, to the rear-drive faithful, to the Camaro fanatics, and to those who say GM can't do anything exciting.
In another example, Go Daddy.com president and founder Bob Parsons is positively gleeful on his blog Hot Points following Super Bowl XL. After all the controversy surrounding Go Daddy's Super Bowl TV spot (It had to be reworked more than once after ABC initially rejected it.), the 30-second commercial drove record traffic to the Go Daddy site:
I'm proud to report that Go Daddy unquestionably had the very best ad in this year's Super Bowl and I've got the numbers to back it up.
In two days we've had an incremental 1.790 million visitors to GoDaddy.com!
On Super Bowl Sunday, visits to the Go Daddy website were up by 880,000 visitors more than normal. On the following day, Monday, visits continued to be strong and were also up by 910,000 visitors more than normal.
Parsons cites Akamai usage reports showing spikes after halftime and after the game represented visits to Go Daddy to the tune of 80% of that server's traffic. This after the commercial's first 13 submissions were rejected. And even then, the spot was panned by ad critics, who evidently didn't "quite get the fact that the purpose of these spots is to generate business," quips Parsons.
Is blogging -- CEO or otherwise -- worth it for any company? Results may not always be as easy to quantify as in the above examples. Gaping Void's Hugh McLeod explains that "blogging as a marketing tool is easier when you think of it as a chemical catalyst, not as a hammer and nail." He says that "by interfacing with the blogosphere, it fundamentally change[s] how [a company] look[s] at treating their ... customers and ... end-users."
But the final word comes from Lutz:
... So far, response has been outstanding ... To any senior executive on the fence about starting a corporate blog, I have a word of advice: Jump.
A freelance writer living in West Michigan, Kathleen Vandervelde's past lives include both corporate and agency employment. She keeps several blogs, two of which you could definitely let your mother read: Coit Avenue and Things I've Seen.
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday and provides blogging tips, advice and tutorials for blog newbies and veterans alike.
February 5, 2006
Posted by Kathleen Vandervelde
If your company still isn't sure about this blogging thing, it's time to take a look at just how influential corporate bloggers can be in the marketplace.
The first to come to mind is Microsoft's Robert Scoble, with his blog Scobelizer (just one of hundreds of Microsoft employee blogs). The "A-List" blogger, who consistently ranks among Technorati's Top 100 blogs for unique links, just might be the poster child for corporate blogging. In a recent post he writes about the influence blogging can have on product development:
So, in 2006, where is this going? Better products because now you know where to leave a comment and who is responsible ... Which, brings me to why this works. Social pressure. Nothing works better to get a company to change. Nothing. If there's a company you don't like, write about it. If they are listening, they'll respond. If not, well, at least you've warned everyone else not to do business with them.
Scoble's influence has gone beyond engaging consumers in the product development cycle, however. His openness and penchant for telling the (uncensored) truth -- even if it doesn't always reflect well on his employer -- have undoubtedly raised Microsoft's credibility score in the marketplace. Indeed, many credit the "technical evangelist" (his real job title) with turning public opinion around following Microsoft's "dark days" of the 90s.
So There's Scoble, and ... ?
Corporate bloggers with that kind of clout are hard to find, it's true. Don't mistake me, there are well-known CEOs and other company officers out there blogging, but they're a different breed (and fodder for a future post). In fact, Micro Persuasion's Steve Rubel cites a study stating that only about 4% of Fortune 500 companies are blogging. Studying the big guys is important, says Rubel, "but they're not the innovators in the blog world." Rather, he says, "most of the companies that have put points up on the blog scoreboard have been small to medium-sized firms."
My own research has turned up a few of the smaller companies whose blogs have garnered attention on the 'net.
Stormhoek: "freshness matters" is the mantra for this winemaker whose blog is devoted to not just the wine, but to their passion for winemaking. The blog was conceived by blogger, cartoonist and marketing consultant Hugh McLeod who insists that "The future of brands is interaction, not commodity. It's not something you buy, but something you paticipate in ... i.e. a brand is not a thing, but a place." An added twist to the blogging effort: Stormhoek offered free samples to bloggers, many of whom blogged about the wine (though it wasn't part of the freebie deal). Sales of the wine reportedly doubled over the year.
Stonyfield Farm is a good study in the participation/conversational nature of blogging. The New Hampshire-based maker of organic yogurt runs two blogs: The Bovine Bugle, written by one of their Vermont suppliers (a third generation dairy farm). The other is Baby Babble, where "Stonyfield Farm employees who have young children chat with each other here about balancing work and family, and knowing what's "right" for their children." Readers are invited to "Join the conversation!" Both blogs run through the company's information-rich website, taking the company's "healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet" philosophy directly to consumers in a friendly, unaffected style.
Last April the Wayland company launched a financial advice blog "sponsored" by Denali Flavors. The premise, according to a write up in the Grand Rapids Press, was that people might not visit an ice cream maker's website, but they do look for financial information online. The blog has increased visits to the website by 30% says the company.
Just. Join. In.
You see how blogging can have an influence, from getting name recognition out there to influencing product development, increasing sales and even molding public opinion. Companies can no longer question whether to blog, according to McLeod. Today's savvy consumers don't just want a product, he explains,
... They want "The Information." They want the substance. They want the gossip, and the insights, they want the insider's view ... They don't just want to understand the mystique, they also want to be part of it.
"Join. The. Conversation." McLeod exhorts companies who may still be waffling. "Start a blog."
A freelance writer living in West Michigan, Kathleen Vandervelde's past lives include both corporate and agency employment. She keeps several blogs, two of which you could definitely let your mother read: Coit Avenue and Things I've Seen.
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday and provides blogging tips, advice and tutorials for blog newbies and veterans alike.
January 29, 2006
Posted by QBlog
Blogs and memes go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like Crockett and Tubbs. Like the Cubs and disappointment. They're practically made for each other and to deprive your blog of its natural meme-craving is an exhibition of sadistic cruelty.
Uh, What's A Meme?
Some of your out there don't know a meme from a hole in the ground but that's ok. I'll bring you up to speed.
The short definition is "a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another."
However, that definition is incomplete as it relates to an Internet meme which "occurs when something relatively unknown becomes increasingly popular, often quite suddenly, through the mass propagation of media content made feasible by the Internet" technology.
Some examples of popular memes include:
- Bert Is Evil
- Bonsai Kitten
- The I Kiss You! guy from Turkey
- The Star Wars Kid
- The classic All Your Base Are Belong To Us
- Black People Love Us
- The infamous Dancing Baby
- My personal favorite, Peanut Butter Jelly Time
But while bloggers love a good meme, the examples listed above merely provide the opportunity to post a link and a few witty comments. What bloggers really want is something they can pass off as genuine content. You know, like what I'm doing right now.
The Blog Meme
A blog meme is a type of Internet meme that requires active participation by the blogger and rarely traces back to an originating source. It's often a series of questions that a blogger answers to share some personal perspective or experience on random topics.
Here are a few examples of popular blog memes:
Memes Are Silly
Yes, memes are silly and blog memes seem to be especially popular with the LiveJournal - Xanga - MySpace crowd which likely means people under 21. It's a sort of narcissistic way for kids to tell the world how cool, unique and special they are because we all know that the world is dying to know more about YOU!
This, is the story of you
What makes you special, where you come from
This is one of the most exciting stories ever told
Because its about you
And you are one of the most important things in the world . . . you
Handsome Boy Modeling School - "If It Wasn't For You"
But plenty of the "serious blogger" set enjoy a good blog meme too so don't let the kids have all the fun. Toss your content worries to the wind and start a blog meme today!
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday and provides blogging tips, advice and tutorials for blog newbies and veterans alike.
January 22, 2006
Posted by Matt Wood
The downfall of many a good blog has been a simple lack of content. Even the most well-intentioned blogger can find themselves without enough time to give their blog the attention it deserves. You know the story: you fire up that new WordPress installation with a burst of inspriation, promising to change the world with your thoughts on politics, Mac software, or dirt track motocross racing, and you post five times a day for a month straight. But soon life intervenes, you start posting less and less, and before you know it you're posting apologies for being away so long more often than you write anything new. It's okay, you're only human. Very few people get paid to blog, so it's usually the first thing that suffers when life happens.
Good Help Isn't So Hard to Find
One way to prevent a slow, agonizing blog death is to make it a team effort. The simple act of getting more monkeys pounding away at the keyboard for you can make the world of difference, and it can give your blog the variety that will keep people coming back. Witness the popularity of sites like Boing Boing, Gizmodo, and Daily Kos. Each of these sites has their own niche, but range widely enough within that area and post with enough frequency to build a huge audience.
I write for Chicagoist, a group blog about all things happening in the Windy City. With a team of about 20 regular contributors, we're usually able to post at least 12 times a day, covering topics from city politics to food and drink to sports and music. Some of the writers cover a specific beat, while others, like myself, fill in the gaps with general coverage. That would be a pretty ambitious undertaking for one person, but as a group we're able to cover all the angles, and not just superficially; most posts are over 300 words and consolidate multiple news sources.
Chicagoist Editor Rachelle Bowden started the site in 2004 as the second in the Gothamist family of city blogs. At first, she ran the site with just one other friend. She describes those first few weeks as "hellish," but once the site gained some popularity, they posted a call for contributors and the family grew.
Bowden says she reserves the right to edit any content posted by other Chicagoist contributors, but leaves much of the editorial process up to the writers. Each of us has a Movable Type account, and we post content ourselves. When asked if she ever thought about reviewing posts before they go live, Bowden says, "Maybe for a millisecond. But it's too time consuming especially since we're not getting paid. We put more time into finding quality contributors that we can trust."
Chicagoist has a formal application process for would-be contributors. Any time there is an opening, Bowden posts a job description to ask for help. Applicants usually send in writing samples, explain why they're a good fit, and draft some test posts to show that they can write in the Chicagoist style. Bowden and the associate editors review the applications and have the best candidate make a test run for a few days before joining the team full-time. But starting a group blog doesn't have to be so formal--you can simply ask some of your friends. Chances are you know some like-minded people who would love to rant and rave about their favorite topics.
A key part of keeping Chicagoist running smoothly is open communication. We have a Yahoo Group where we toss around topics and hash out ideas before they go online. Bowden usually posts a message early each morning with potential topics for the day, and the rest of us scan the news and add ideas for our specific beats. To prevent overlap, contributors claim dibs on a story before they start writing. The ensuing discussion helps set the tone for the day, but mostly it helps us get to know each other. Bowden says this constant communcation also helps find good writers. "We put a lot of time into talking on a daily basis. That way we can get a good feeling that people aren't going to come out of right field and write something crazy," she says.
What Readers Expect
By their nature, group blogs usually focus on a specific topic, like the city in which you live, a local sports team, gadgets and gizmos, or politics. As such you have less leeway for what you post on a group blog. In large part, this comes from a responsibility to your readers, who were attracted by the site's topic in the first place. Bowden says, "With the topic of the group blog being the City of Chicago, I only write about things relevant to the city, whereas on my personal site I dont really care about my audience as much so I can feel free to write about what I had for dinner and how fabulous my new jeans are."
This doesn't mean that a group blog has to lack personality. In fact, if each contributor develops a unique style, it adds to the dynamic of the site. Be aware though that as a team effort, readers will expect a certain amount of consistency unless you explicitly develop a forum for debate. You don't have to bend to their every whim, but you would do well to think about their expectations. Just the other day, a reader confronted me about my stance on smoking bans recently passed in Chicago. My view happens to differ from that of other Chicagoist writers who have addressed the topic, but he had assumed that we were all of the same mind. The resulting fallout ended in some ugly comments that could have been avoided had I paid more attention to the team's general stance.
Group Blog Isn't Spelled With an I Either
Working for Chicagoist has made me more aware of that basic human need to belong to something. Fill in all the corny slogans about teamwork that you want, but working with others on a blog raises the stakes. It's easy to let a personal blog slide because you only have to answer to yourself. But with a group, you feel an obligation to do the best job you can because you don't want to let your friends down. The responsibility may be greater when others rely on your to carry your weight, but the results are well worth it.
- By Matt Wood
January 15, 2006
Posted by QBlog
So, you've figured out how to publish a podcast and even got it listed in the iTunes Music Store podcast directory. But you haven't quite figured out how to make your plain, generic listing look slick, professional and personalized. Well, pay attention because I'm here to help.
Enhanced Super-Cool Listing
By now you're familiar with the iTunes podcast submission process. Fill out a simple form and your podcast will be listed as soon as it's reviewed by Apple's esteemed "Podcast Approval Team." Easy! However, the submission process does not provide a way to add things like artwork, author name and extended descriptions. Such extras must be included in the RSS feed and adding them can be a complicated and confusing exercise.
For example, take a quick look at Apple's podcast tutorial. It's a lengthy page filled with lines of code, iTunes-specific tags and confusing jargon. Not exactly helpful unless you're a l337 h4x0r. What's the average podcaster to do?
Obviously you don't want to hand-code your RSS feed for each new podcast as one tutorial suggests. Whenever a podcast tutorial includes the phrase "open up a text editor, like Windows notepad" you should run away — fast! What you want instead is an application, service or plug-in that simplifies and automates the iTunes tagging process.
Create A Graphic
There are several solutions and you should pick which one meets your specific blogging needs. But before making your decision you need to create a graphic. You know, that cool image that makes your podcast look like it belongs on iTunes. Your graphic doesn't have to be fancy. It could be a personal photo, some cheap stock art or simply the title of your podcast. The only requirement is that your image be a square jpeg measuring 300 pixels wide and 300 pixels high.
I suggest using an image that looks good as it shrinks because it will be displayed at smaller sizes on the main iTunes directory. Some tools even suggest creating a 144x144 pixel image for thumbnail views.
I found several solutions that should meet the needs of most podcasters. Some require a bit more knowledge than others but they're all much easier than hand-coding your RSS feed for each new podcast.
- Feedburner - Possibly the easiest way to get your podcast feed published. Feedburner makes promoting your podcast to iTunes a cinch and it's FREE! Just follow the simple instructions and you're done. (Recommended for Blogger.com and those who don't host their own podcasts).
- Audioblog - Get started for $4.95 a month and your feed is automatically ready for iTunes. Provides hosting of your podcast files too. Recommended for those who don't mind spending some money and who don't want to be bothered with running their own site.
- Loudblog - This free application runs on your PHP server and supports iTunes valid feeds.
- WP-IpodCatter - A free, easy to install plug-in for Wordpress-powered blogs that really works. It's what I used to get my iTunes valid podcast information uploaded.
Sadly, I can't find any solutions for Movable Type or TypePad. If you're using either of those tools to get your podcast feed published you'll probably need to use something like Feedburner to generate your iTunes tags.
January 8, 2006
Posted by Kathleen VanderveldeIf you ever find yourself in a position to take on the blogger's mantle for your company, I urge you to think twice. Then, DO it!
As a former corporate blogger, I can tell you that the satisfaction potential in "going public" for your employer is pretty high. Why? Because you and your fellow bloggers can become a powerful force in shaping the public image of your company.
Think about it. You have first-hand knowledge of new products and new business developments, and you're taking this information to the world before most traditional marketing machines can get their motors running. Just by being timely, bloggers get first crack at grabbing the public's attention.
To take it further, blogging is not just about pushing news and information into the market. It's also about analysis and commentary. It's creating context by which readers can understand and relate to your company. It's taking in -- and acting upon -- comments, suggestions and questions from customers, prospective customers and the public at large.
By engaging directly with the marketplace -- conducting a dialogue, really -- you are helping your company build a community that's loyal to your products and brand.
Move over, traditional marketing
Smart companies are leveraging the power of these exchanges. Writing for the collaborative blog, "Creating Passionate Users " Kathy Sierra points out how the "open source /cluetrain world" is causing traditional "old-school" marketing to give way to "neo-marketing." She draws some interesting contrasts between the two:
- In old-school marketing, marketers have the power. In neo-marketing, users do.
- Old-school marketing employs one-way broadcast. Neo-marketing uses two-way conversation.
- The old school uses deception to sell. Neo-marketing depends on transparency.
- In old-school marketing, the 30-second spot is king. In neo-marketing, it's word of mouth.
- Old-school marketers attempt to get the customer to believe in it. In neo-marketing, you believe in it.
These particular neo-marketing attributes find expression through -- guess what -- blogging. Turns out, as the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto proclaimed: Markets are indeed conversations.
Let the discussion begin
As a blogger, you get to begin that conversation for your company. And if you keep the dialogue going honestly, openly, you and your fellow bloggers can become primary influencers in how the market perceives your company, its products and its brand.
And if that's not enough of a head rush, you'll probably do it all without a formal marketing plan, communications brief, brainstorming session, concept presentation, photo shoot, copy approvals, or even -- gasp -- legal approvals.
Did I say corporate blogging can be hugely satisfying? You betcha.
Upcoming corporate blogging topics: Who are some of these blogger influentials? OK, let's see some results. Guidelines? What guidelines? It's still about transparency. How blogging can help you move up (or move out) PR blogging. CEO bloggers. Can you make money doing this?
Got an idea for a post? Send me an email.
New Blogger Introduction
A freelance writer living in West Michigan, Kathleen Vandervelde's past lives include both corporate and agency employment. She keeps several blogs, two of which you could definitely let your mother read: Coit Avenue and Things I've Seen.
January 1, 2006
Posted by QBlog
Blogging 101 is back! I bet you're wondering about that special announcement I promised a couple of weeks ago. Well, a new guest blogger has agreed to join me and Matt Wood as a contributing writer for Blogging 101. I'll tell you more about her next week as she makes her Blogging 101 debut. Stay Tuned!
So, you hopped on the blogging bandwagon and posted your insightful commentaries about U.S. Foreign Policy, the rude waiter at Applebee's and that hilarious Snakes on a Plane meme. Yet, like the day after a Tequila-inspired Vegas wedding, you've come to your senses and realized that you really don't need a blog. But you have a blog, maybe even a popular one, and you're now faced with the challenge of getting rid of it and abandoning that self-imposed responsibility to churn out free content.
What To Do?
Obviously the easiest way to kill a blog is to simply stop blogging. If you don't feed the beast, it will eventually die of starvation right? Well sure but you're not a sick, sadist. You just want to stop blogging, not leave your readers speculating about what happened to you and why your posts suddenly halted.
Did she die?
I heard he was arrested.
Maybe he's in a coma? Or has amnesia?
Vacation or Death?
Before you decide to kill your blog I suggest that you take a break to think things over. Post a message letting readers know that you're putting the blog on hold and then leave it alone for a few weeks. If you still have the blogging itch after your hiatus then pick up right where you left off. But if you don't feel the itch then it's probably time to hang it up and kill off your blog.
How to Kill Your Blog
Each blog is different and therefore each blog death will be unique. However, most blog deaths should follow some practical guidelines to ensure that your piece of the Blogosphere doesn't end up resembling an abandoned Wal-Mart.
Here are seven recommendations for killing your blog:
- Be honest about the motivation for killing your blog. If you're killing it because it got you fired, let the world know.
- Once you kill your blog, resist the temptation to resurrect it. Nobody likes a zombie blog.
- Make the death quick and painless. There's nothing worse than a long, agonizing death. Don't waste dozens of posts explaining your action. Do it quick and do it with confidence. One farewell post should suffice.
- Don't delete your blog. Deleting a blog looks like you're trying to hide something and that feeds conspiracy theories. Simply kill it, have a funeral and put up an appropriate tombstone engraved with a clever epitaph for posterity.
- Be sure to tell your readers where you'll be spending your time if you decide to blog somewhere else. Unless of course you're killing your blog because you want to start blogging anonymously.
- Leave all the archives up for as long as possible. If you're paying for hosting then you may need to remove the blog at some point but post a termination date and explain your reasons for removal.
- Unless you plan to monitor comments for spam you should disable the comment (and trackback) features.
There's no shame in properly disposing of a blog. Our lives change. Our goals change. Sometimes our blogs can't adapt to those changes and it's better to kill a blog than to leave it lingering, sporadically updated with second-rate content.
December 18, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Yipes! I put the popular Blogging 101 series on hold for the summer and now it's nearly Christmas with nary a post in sight.
So, it's time to bring Blogging 101 back. Beginning next Sunday, on Christmas day, Blogging 101 makes its triumphant return to the Quixtar BLOG. And because it's Christmas there will be a special surprise announcement that should delight and amaze children of all ages.
Merry Christmas Bloggers!
July 3, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Blogging 101 is taking a brief break this summer. It will be back in a few weeks but for now you can read the archives to get your dose of Blogging 101.
June 26, 2005
Posted by QBlog
The winner of the 2005 Weblog Awards for "Best article or essay about weblogs" demonstrates the futility of this "Blogging 101" series by explaining all you need to know about blogging in a single post. How To Blog is Tony Pierce's popular essay on how to build an internal combustion engine with common household items.
No, not really you dork. His essay is on how to blog, which is why it's titled "How To Blog." And since this "Blogging 101" thing was created to help people blog, I thought sharing the wisdom of a Weblog Award Winner would be a good thing to do.
Here are a couple of highlights from the famed "How To Blog" essay:
1. write every day.
15. dont be afraid if you think something has been said before. it has. and better. big whoop. say it anyway using your own words as honestly as you can. just let it out.
26. dont be afraid to come across as an asswipe. own your asswipeness.
29. dont apologize about not blogging. nobody cares. just start blogging again.
So, get blogging. Do it like your life depends on it, or maybe like someone else's life depends on it. Sometimes I pretend that every time I publish a blog post a starving child in Asia gets a meal. Or, if you don't want to go the benevolent route, pretend that every blog post kills a terrorist. It may be true. You never know.
June 19, 2005
Posted by QBlog
The question I'm most frequently asked by new bloggers (and some veterans) is, "how do you keep blogging for so long? Don't you run out of material?"
My answer is that yes, I run out of material all the time but with practice and a few "tricks" I'm able to overcome some of those "content droughts" and stick to a regular publishing schedule. I've outlined some of those "tricks" in previous installments of Blogging 101 such as The List, Consistency and The Interview. Today I'll outline my "ace in the hole" which is either a bit of blogging brilliance or blogging stupidity, depending on your perspective.
The Content Schedule
Traditional media (newspapers, radio, television, magazines, etc.) has had regular programming/publishing since the very beginning. A content schedule gives the audience something to look forward to, gives advertisers something to spend money on, gives content producers something too plan for and generally creates a structure that everyone enjoys. Blogs can benefit from similar structure and a schedule can make developing blog content a simpler process and less demanding of your "creative juices." It also gives your blog readers another reason to regularly check in.
I know, it sounds a little crazy. You're wondering how creating specific publishing expectations makes blogging easier. Well, allow me to explain with some personal examples.
I run a weekly feature on the Quixtar BLOG called Monday Reader Mail. Each Monday I select an actual email sent in by an actual reader and post it on the blog, usually with a few of my own comments. It's something that blog readers seem to enjoy and it doesn't take much time for me to produce. And after publishing the feature for a while, I've learned how to produce it more quickly and with less effort.
Think of any repetitive task. At first it's difficult but after a while it becomes almost second nature. A little like riding a bicycle though that's oversimplifying.
The real devil is in the details. A wise blogger will carefully choose the type of content to shift to a regular publication schedule. Don't create a weekly series critiquing European socialism unless you know you can pull it off. I suggest beginning with something simple, something like Monday Reader Mail or David Robison's Sunday Thoughts. Once you're comfortable with a simple feature, consider expanding to something more complex. The key is in finding your groove.
But be warned, don't bite off more than you can chew. If you start a regular feature you should plan to stick with it or else set an end date. There's nothing wrong with creating a seasonal feature, like "Summer Memories" or "Winter Travel Log." And if you run a feature for a limited time and find that you can extend it, then you've just developed a permanent fixture for your blog. Cool huh?
There's a definite downside to developing regular blog features. I've bumped up against that with my own regular features, including this one. While I firmly believe that having specific expectations makes me a better blogger, there are just some times when the well is dry. On occasion I'd rather not expend creative energy posting a Blogging 101 entry or drawing a goofy cartoon and simply blog about whatever is on my mind instead.
When you develop a regular feature you give up some of the flexibility that has helped define blogging. That can trap even the best bloggers. Is there a way to avoid such content traps? I think so, by making it clear that every feature can be replaced by something more interesting and more spontaneous at any given time. Don't give up your flexibility and allow the quality of your blog to suffer. If you ever notice that your blog is harmed more than helped by regular features then end them immediately, or at least shelve them for a while.
Think of a regular schedule as a little like fire. When used correctly it can improve the quality of life but when neglected or misused, it can cause devastating destruction.
June 12, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Blogging can be hard work. After a few years of regular posting every good blogger is going to run out of things to say from time to time. That's when you turn to the interview and let other people say something instead.
Who To Interview?
Blog interviews are easy. The hard part is getting one set up and that all starts with deciding who to interview. You need to create a list (that's what I did) of people you'd like to interview. If you're not sure who to put on that list just think of people that you find interesting and that you would like to know better.
Your list should be realistic. Sure, shoot for the stars but don't expect Tom Cruise to be your first interview. Maybe try for Tom Coates instead.
Also, keep your blog audience in mind. If you write about rap music your readers may not be interested in an interview with Bill Dance.
You should arrange your list into three categories:
- Likely to say yes
- Likely to say no
- Not likely to respond to the request
The first people you should contact are those who are unlikely to respond. Then, when they don't respond you can slam the stuck-up assholes in your next blog post. Instant content!
I've done all kinds of interviews and by far the easiest are email interviews. They're easy because they write themselves. The problem with them is that they often read like a script and lack the spontaneity of real-time interviews.
Instant message interviews have the benefit of being real-time so you can quickly ask follow-up questions and they don't read like they're scripted. It's easier to capture that conversational tone with IM than with email.
The phone interview is very difficult but can produce the best results. I recommend recording the conversation if possible. After the interview, go back and transcribe the recording to be sure that you have all the quotes correct.
If you can do it, a face-to-face interview is fun but can be extremely difficult though the hard work usually pays off with quality content. Again, if possible record the interview to ensure accuracy. If recording isn't an option then take lots and lots of notes. Ask questions to be sure you get your quotes correct.
I recommend that bloggers new to interviewing do a few email interviews before attempting anything else.
The best thing about blog interviews, besides not having to think of an awesome post, is that many good interviews can lead to friendships with some really great people. Some interviews I've done have resulted in lasting friendships. Doing an interview is really a great way to get to know someone while providing some interesting content for your blog readers.
And yes, I'm available for interviews. ;o)
June 5, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Until the advent of blogging an individual had to overcome at least one of two obstacles in his effort to reach a mass (and potentially global) audience.
For example, while a Ham Radio is relatively inexpensive, it requires a certain skill level and technological aptitude to operate. And using a word processor is pretty easy, but getting the document published and in the hands of the masses can be quite costly.
Blogging removes those barriers. The Internet (and the World Wide Web) made mass publication affordable and blogging made it as simple as using a word processor.
Scratch That Niche
niche - noun
"Generally, a niche is a special place within the scheme of things."
Because blogging gives individuals the power to publish, they aren't forced to depend upon traditional Media for content — they can create their own. That power shift has caused exponential growth in the types of content available and the beginning of a new era in "niche publishing."
Blogs that target the unique interests of small, specialized audiences fill a publishing void that's existed... well, since the invention of the printing press. With blogs, reaching a niche audience is cheaper, easier and more effective than ever before.
Identify a Niche
If you're thinking about blogging, or want to refocus your existing blog, you could identify a niche. Find a unique topic that you feel especially passionate about and use that as the foundation for your blog.
EXAMPLE: If you're passionate about basketball, think of ways to distinguish your contributions from the crowd. Maybe you can write about basketball shoes? Describe the colors, styles, laces, performance, etc. Or focus on a particular type of shoe — Nike Air Jordans or Tretorns. You could also write about basketball in your region, city or local gym.
Remember, when identifying a niche be sure it's something you feel very passionate about or else you won't write. It's pointless to blog about a niche that you have no interest in.
Dominate That Niche
The more specific your niche, the easier it is to dominate. If you're the only woman blogging about purple jars made from recycled glass then you've easily dominated the purple, recycled glass jar blog niche. As your topic loses specificity the field of competition obviously grows but so does your potential audience.
But how do I dominate a niche? Unfortunately, there's not a simple answer. If you write like a retarded third-grader then you're unlikely to dominate any niche (unless it's the retarded third-grader blog niche). But assuming you can at least string a few sentences together here are my suggested tips for niche domination.
- Blog Often - People are more likely to forgive poor writing if a blog is updated frequently. Blogs that are well written AND frequently updated (while rare) are much more likely to dominate their respective niches.
- Blog Well - Good writing. Good linking. Make sense. Be funny. Be sincere. Be informative. Be like Jason Kottke.
- Know Your Competition - I've always studied my competition to borrow ideas, identify weaknesses and gain inspiration.
- Know Your Niche - Sounds obvious but many niche bloggers don't know much about their chosen topic. Their blogs generally suck. Don't be like them. Study. Learn. Educate. Know your niche.
- Know Your Audience - Be in tune with what your niche audience wants from your blog.
The above tips really apply to all blogs, not just niche blogs. And I'm not suggesting that every blog should be a niche blog. Most bloggers are probably better suited for tackling mainstream topics and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just keep in mind that niche blogging often provides audiences with content they can't get anywhere else.
Examples of Niche Blogging
May 29, 2005
Posted by QBlog
You remember that awesome entry you posted on your blog last week? You know, the Hemingway-esque pontification about life and blogs and destiny? Well, after a bit of sober reflection you realize that it wasn't so great after all and could use a little revising. That's pretty much what I did to the "Is Blogging Journalism" entry posted earlier this month.
I went back and tried to flesh out the Blogging 101 post to make it more comprehensive. The ability to quickly revise, while following some basic modification guidelines, is another reason blogging (or Web publishing in general) is so cool.
And that's pretty much my entry for Blogging 101 on this Memorial Day weekend. Just revising a previous post to make it better, improved. Have a great weekend and if you'd like to help out with Blogging 101, send me an email. I'm now taking submissions and will post more details soon.
May 22, 2005
Posted by Matt Wood
Using comments effectively in a blog
I'm back from my brief hiatus, after my last Blogging 101 article necessitated a stay in protective custody. Now that I've been away and had some time to repent for what I said, I'm fully back on the blogging bandwagon. Hopefully this piece will be awkwardly read off a flickering screen by two hot interns from Vassar during a riveting "What's in the Blogs" segment on CNN.
Much of the hype about blogs stems from the audience interactivity they permit. Almost every blog features an integrated comment system that allows its readers to post immediate reactions to each post that are displayed right along with the original text. This turns one-sided, author-centric web pages into dynamic communities in which the real action often happens far down the page and far off-topic from the original post.
But starting this kind of discussion isn't just a matter of switching on the comment setting in Movable Type. A blogger has to know how to solicit meaningful feedback and keep the conversation going. She also has to know when to insert herself into the discussion and when to respectfully step back and let things develop as they will.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your comment section:
- Write open-ended posts. This can be as simple as adding
a "What do you think?" at the end of your furious rant about the
last OC episode, as long as
it invites people to respond. If you really have a lot of readers, you can
even get away with an "Open Thread" in which you make a placeholder
post just so people can talk.
- Lay off the inside jokes. If you're really interested
in getting a good dialogue going, make your blog feel open to people who don't
know you in the real world. There is definitely a place for blogs written
just for your friends, but to really engage new people, they have to feel
comfortable joining the conversation.
- Be outrageous. Nothing gets the peanut gallery more excited
than when you say something really obnoxious. Push the hot buttons. Use language
that you know will set off emotions. Deliberately pick on people (in good
taste). Even if you don't feel that strongly about something, sometimes it's
fun to whip up some Rush Limbaugh faux-outrage just to get the barbs flying.
- Participate in the discussion yourself. Don't get so wrapped
up in your own thoughts that you don't take time to respond to other comments.
Blog posts, by their immediate nature, are often incomplete, poorly written,
or unclear. Sometimes you have to elaborate or answer questions that will
lead you down new paths and bring up even more interesting points.
- Stay out of it when you're not wanted. You can also smother
a conversation by controlling it too much. You may want to let a handful of
people riff on a topic for a while before you jump back in the fray. Think
of the way your best teachers encouraged discussion in class: most of the
time they asked some well-placed questions and sat back to watch it unfold,
speaking up only when necessary to keep things on topic.
- Show your work. If you realize that you made a mistake
in your original post, don't delete the offending text. Leave it there to
elaborate and clarify, either as a clearly marked update or using strikethrough
tags. Readers who come to the page later will find it more instructive
to see the entire discussion as it unfolded.
- Don't be defensive, but don't be a pushover. If someone
jumps your case, think about it a few minutes before you respond. You have
to be in control of the situation. As we all know, internet discussions can
quickly get out of hand. It's much easier to take the high road and let the
flame throwers look like the high-strung assholes. But then again, you don't
want to look like an easy mark. If a commenter attacks you unfairly, you're
obligated to set the record straight and make fun of their mama.
- Follow the trackbacks. Trackbacks, in a nutshell, are
posts on other blogs that reference something on your site, and by the magic
of the internet, shows up in your comment section. They used to be a little
hard to pull off, but most blog software today automatically uses trackbacks
in some form or another. They're indirect comments. Some bloggers even prefer
that people use trackbacks instead of commenting directly on their site. If
you receive a trackback, make sure you read it and respond if necessary, or
better yet, respond by leaving a comment directly on the other site. Or, write
a new post and leave a trackback for them, and then they'll write another
one and trackback you, and then you'll become best blog buddies and all is
right with the geek world.
- Do it all on the same page. Always configure your blog
to display comments on a single page with your original post instead of in
a pop-up window. This way the entire discussion will be archived at the permalink,
allowing it to be indexed and searchable. This preserves the flavor of the
entire discussion, and captures ideas that happened later in the discussion
after the original post.
- Clean house. Nothing kills a discussion like the dreaded comment spam. You get a good argument going over the merits of Jack Bauer's latest torture technique, and all of a sudden everyone's talking about online casinos and porn. Again, most modern blog tools have automatic methods to help, but a few spam comments always slip through. Just make sure you pay attention and clean out the garbage. But then again, a well-placed penis enlargement comment might keep things going.
A blog without good discussion will always die of neglect. You have to actively monitor your comments. Every blogger, no matter what they say, started their site because they want other people to read it and respond. Say what you will about self-publishing and grassroots reporting and speaking your mind, but discussion is what blogs do best.
- By Matt Wood
Other related Blogging 101 Entries
May 15, 2005
Posted by QBlog
- Updated May 29, 2005
To say a blog is journalism is like saying web pages are journalism. Journalism can happen on Web pages, and on blogs, in lots of places. Not everything that's printed is journalism. Not everything that's broadcast is journalism. Yet we have print and broadcast journalism. It's the same with blogging software.
Blogging is simply a publication tool identified by certain characteristics that distinguish it from other publication tools. When people ask the "is blogging journalism" question what they really want to know is whether or not bloggers who report and opine about public issues and current events should enjoy the same respect and protections given to traditional journalists? My answer to that question is a resounding YES.
What Is A Journalist?
A journalist simply reports information (and sometimes, in the case of columns and reviews, expressly shares opinions) to others and hopefully does so accurately, completely and with integrity. Unlike doctors or lawyers there is no formal certification or licensing process for journalists so anyone can claim to be a journalist. However, the marketplace ultimately decides who is and is not a journalist. Just ask Geraldo Rivera and Matt Drudge.
In a competitive marketplace those with skills and desire will succeed while the talentless hacks will usually fail.
The Blogging Parallels
Like journalism, there is no formal licensing or certification process for bloggers. Virtually anyone can blog and, like journalists, the marketplace determines which bloggers are worth reading and which should be ignored. Bloggers with skill rise to the top and command an audience while the talentless hacks remain unread.
Many traditional journalists express concerns about blogging based on five key issues:
Let's examine each issue as it relates to bloggers.
Credibility One of the primary criticisms of blogs is also what makes blogging so revolutionary — anyone can say anything about everything to everyone. Due to that accessibility, critics rightly question the credibility and veracity of blog content. But credibility is not a birthright nor a permanent honor bestowed on any individual or institution. It must be regularly earned by consistently demonstrating that the content is trustworthy, accurate and credible.
60 Minutes is considered a credible news magazine but lost much of that credibility over Rathergate. Likewise the New York Times lost credibility during the Jayson Blair incident. And don't forget the Newsweek debacle. Main Stream Media (and the journalists it employs) must earn, and re-earn, its credibility. Bloggers must also earn, and re-earn, credibility. In both cases the audience (or marketplace) decides which information sources (bloggers and traditional journalists) are credible.
The significant distinction between most bloggers and traditional journalists is that most bloggers have no financial incentive to be credible while a journalist's livelihood is directly connected to his credibility. But credible bloggers, like credible journalists, are usually motivated by more than just a paycheck.
Who holds bloggers accountable? Libel and other laws apply to bloggers as well as journalist. Also, like journalists, a blogger's audience holds him accountable and as that audience grows the degree of scrutiny and accountability also grows. While journalists are also held accountable by their employer (publisher, editor, supervisor, etc.), popular bloggers are held accountable by a peer group that works a little like the Open Source community. Good blogging gets recognized and supported while poor blogging gets ridiculed and castigated. It's not structured, but for the most part, it works.
Journalists are taught ethical standards in school while bloggers must learn them on their own. This reality gives journalists an ethical advantage but not an insurmountable one. Most ethical guidelines are just common sense and with some experience, bloggers can discern what is and isn't ethical. And let's not kid ourselves, journalists are human and can be as unethical as any politician in spite of all their training. Real ethics come from personal integrity and both bloggers and journalists that lack integrity will have a difficult time following ethical guidelines no matter how what the level of ethical education.
Do journalists have an agenda? They're trained to be unbiased but many have shown that such training can be ineffective. And so we, as journalism consumers, are left guessing about potential motives and possible hidden agendas in news reports and editorials. Such is rarely the case with bloggers.
Bloggers often wear their agendas on their sleeves which makes it easier (at times) to put the reported information in its proper context. We can expect a "right" perspective from Instapundit and a "left" perspective from Daily Kos. Full disclosure may not be a blogger's advantage but at least it removes agenda ambiguity.
Traditional journalists don't have a lock on accuracy. Neither do bloggers. Instead of keeping score both should just recognize that the public detests negligent mistakes from both traditional journalists and bloggers. Don't piss off the people.
So Is Blogging Journalism?
Certain types of blogging are indeed journalism. If you've ever had any desire to become a journalist, the traditional kind, then I suggest you start blogging. It's a great way to get your feet wet and better understand how journalism works (and doesn't work).
Some futurists imagine a day when all news will be reported by citizen bloggers, making traditional journalists irrelevant. While that may happen (though unlikely) I imagine a day when all traditional journalists become bloggers and we ask the question, "is journalism blogging?"
May 1, 2005
Posted by QBlog
This week's Blogging 101 takes a look back to some of the past lessons in this helpful and educational series. If you haven't read back through all the previous entries, I encourage you to visit the Category Archives and poke around.
The 10 Greatest Hits of Blogging 101
- Be Brief - This may be the golden rule of blogging
- Blog Competition - My secret to blog success, if you call this blog a success
- The Importance of Blogs - Of course bloggers believe that what they do is important and this entry explains why they're right
- Read Blogs - A good blogger usually reads other blogs just like a good writer reads other writers
- Value Added - Explains how to make your blog more than just a blog including tips on how to increase traffic
- Consistency - My "secret" to consistent publishing is laid out here
- Podcasting - One of the best nuts and bolts tutorials about Podcasting
- Make A Little Money - The basics on how to make (a little) money from blogging
- Moblogging - If you want to blog on the go, this post is for you
- Blog Ethics - Everything needs a code of ethics
So, there you have it. If you would like to nominate another entry for the 10 Greatest Hits, be my guest and maybe it will make the 10 Greatest Hits of Blogging 101 - Volume II.
April 24, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Yes, you can make money from your blog. There are several ways to generate a little cash with your blog but I'll highlight five of the most popular methods.
Before I go into any more detail I should mention that unless you run an extremely popular blog, have the right kind of audience and are Jason Kottke then you will not make a lot of money with your blog. At best, you can hope to make enough to cover server fees, domain registration, software upgrades, licenses and other expenses associated with running a website. And when you do make money, keep in mind that Uncle Sam (for U.S. residents) will want a nice chunk of your blog cash.
PayPal Tip Jar
One of the best ways to get blog funds is with the PayPal Tip Jar. Like the tip jars used by coffee shops and street musicians, the PayPal Tip Jar is a way for people to directly support something they appreciate. Setting up a PayPal Tip Jar is really easy, just setup a PayPal account and let others know which email address should receive the funds.
If you'd like to put a nifty PayPal button on your blog (like the "Make a donation" one I have) then insert the following code into your template:
<form action="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr" method="post">
<input type="hidden" name="cmd" value="_xclick">
<input type="hidden" name="business" value="email@example.com">
<input type="hidden" name="item_name" value="Support My BLOG">
<input type="hidden" name="no_shipping" value="1">
<input type="hidden" name="no_note" value="1">
<input type="hidden" name="currency_code" value="USD">
<input type="hidden" name="tax" value="0">
<input type="image" src="https://www.paypal.com/en_US/i/btn/x-click-but21.gif" border="0" name="submit" alt="Make payments with PayPal - it's fast, free and secure!">
Of course you should change the appropriate fields to reflect your specific details.
Google AdSense has quickly become the most popular and (for some) lucrative way to make money from a blog. According to Google:
Google AdSense is a fast and easy way for website publishers of all sizes to display relevant, unobtrusive Google ads on their website's content pages and earn money. Because the ads are related to what your users are looking for on your site, you'll finally have a way to both monetize and enhance your content pages.
To get hooked up with AdSense you must fill out Google's application which includes a lot of personal information, mainly for tax purposes. Once you're approved just follow the helpful instructions and start placing ads on your blog. Google ads use something called Cost Per Click and Pay Per Click. CPC/PPC means that advertisers only pay when their ad is clicked and then you get a percentage of what the advertisers pay Google for that click. This differs from impression-based ads which charge advertisers based on the number of times an ad is displayed, not clicked. Google doesn't use impression-based ads.
According to the BlogAds website, this form of advertising is a way to reach an audience that MSM (Main Stream Media) can't (or won't) reach:
You need to woo the early adopters that traditional media can't reach. You need to engage 500,000 opinion makers, not pester 100,000,000 nobodies. You need Blogads. Read by fanatics, pundits and journalists, blogs increasingly set the insider agenda. Use blogads to engage where opinions are made.
I like BlogAds and understand their potential but they're primarily appealing to a certain type of audience — political and web-centric. I'm not discouraging anyone from using BlogAds, I use them here and am pleased with them so far, but they're more hit & miss than the Tip Jar or Google AdSense.
Like Google AdSense, you must apply for inclusion in the BlogAds program but unlike Google, BlogAds has certain requirements. You really need to have at least 1,000 daily unique visitors before you can use BlogAds. If your blog doesn't generate that much traffic, then you probably won't be using BlogAds.
I don't know much about the Amazon Associates, even though I'm using it on this blog. I had to apply with Amazon and after getting approved, go through a few basic steps to set it up and install it on my blog template. The way it works is that you put a link (or ad) on your site and if someone clicks the link and then buys the resulting product, you get a cut of that sale. Pretty simple. There are many associate style programs but Amazon's is probably the most popular.
I'm not aware of any specific applications that facilitate sponsorships. Most seem to be custom-built and unique to each blog. The concept of sponsorships is to sell (or rent) premium real estate on your blog to the highest bidder. For example, the extremely popular blog BoingBoing is sponsored by Wired, Speakeasy and Space Ghost (among others). Their ads appear in very visible spots, under the words "Sponsored By." The theory is that both sponsors and the blogs that host their ads share some common interests, values and goals. This isn't necessarily true but it's a bit different than straight advertising... I think.
Anyway, sponsorships are developed entirely by you so the accounting, reporting, security, billing, etc. is all on you. This may be more hassle than you're willing to deal with but it can be the most effective way to make money from your blog.
Before you rush out and start trying to get rich from your blog I'd advise you to sit down and consider how money can impact your blog. More importantly, think of how the perception of money can impact your blog audience. Even Boing Boing has been "under attack" for "selling out" and not being forthcoming about its ad revenue (according to some). I'm not going to argue one way or another about blogs and money but just want you to carefully consider the ramifications before you move forward and develop a strategy based on that awareness.
Before I did anything related to money on this blog I decided that full disclosure was paramount and that my goal was to cover costs, never make a profit. But that's my decision. What you decide is entirely up to you. Just know what you're doing and why.
April 17, 2005
Posted by QBlog
So you want to blog eh? Fantastic!
What's that? You don't want your blog URL to be myrants.blogspot.com or myblog.blogharbor.com or something like that? Well, then I suppose you want to host your own blog then? Spectacular!
Ah, but you aren't sure how to host your own blog, right? Well, that's why I'm here. Helping bloggers do more with less... or something.
Register A Domain
If you want your blog to reside at something like mysupercoolblog.com then you need to register that domain with a registration service. There are a few to choose from, Network Solutions is one of the oldest and most popular but I recommend Godaddy.com (for others search Google).
The first step to domain registration is to pick a domain name. This can be a difficult task because you must obviously pick one that is available. Most people try to choose something ending with ".com" because that's the most common but ".net" and ".org" are fine too. If you can, avoid names ending with things like ".info" and ".biz" because they're considered "second tier" domains by many Web enthusiasts. You should also steer clear of hyphenated domain names (like big-blog-fun.com) and domain names with numbers (like myblog1234.com). Of course, you can pick any domain name you like, I'm just detailing some "best practices" for choosing a domain.
It's pretty easy to search for available domains on most registration services. Just type in the one you want and if it's not available, most services offer alternative suggestions. Or you can keep trying different names until you find one that's available. When you find an available domain, the registration process is pretty simple. Follow the instructions, choose your registration term length (from one to ten years) and pay the fee (I recommend two years).
So now you own a domain — what next? Well, some people choose to do a redirect which transfers people to another domain (also called Domain Forwarding). For example, I own quixtarblog.com but nothing is hosted at that domain. Instead, if you visit quixtarblog.com you'll end up here, at webraw.com/quixtar/. So, if you had a blog hosted at TypePad or blog.com, you could have your personal URL (like robscoolblog.com) redirect to your hosted blog (like robscoolblog.typepad.com).
The advantage of domain forwarding is that you're done once you tell the registration service where you want to transfer people. The disadvantage is that ultimately, visitors end up at a domain other than your own (example: myblog.blogspot.com).
Choosing A Host
Since you've decided to host your own blog (instead of forwarding your domain) you need to choose a host. Many registration services offer hosting but you're not required to use them for your site. It's best to shop around and find the package that fits your needs and your budget. Hosting your own site does cost money, so be prepared to spend a little cash. Also, you want a hosting plan that supports your blog software preference so be sure to choose one that fits those requirements (PHP, CGI, MySQL, etc.). Most blog tools run in either PERL (Movable Type) or PHP (WordPress) and almost all use MySQL as a database. Check the Blog Software Breakdown to get an idea of the minimum server requirements your host should provide.
I recommend Godaddy (no, I don't get anything to recommend them) as a blog host for beginners. It's cheap (as little as $3.95 per month), fairly easy to set up and has packages that support most blog software.
There is an alternative hosting solution. Some blog services, like Blogger.com, allow users to publish to another server via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). The advantage of this is that you can use any type of hosting plan for this option. You don't need PHP, a Database or anything else except for FTP access. And there's no installation to mess with which is great for newbies. If you're already using a blog service, and don't want to stop using it, you might consider this option.
To see if your blog service offers FTP publishing, search for an FTP option in your admin area or check the FAQ section (Blogger's FTP Help).
Set Up Your Site
When you set up your site with your host, you'll need to enter the DNS information with your registration service. If your host is the same as the registration service (using Godaddy for both), this process is probably pretty simple. If not, then find out the DNS info from your hosting service and enter that into the Nameserver field of your Domain Registration service. It often looks something like this: site.nameserver.com.
The Domain Name System is what tells your browser where to go. If you type in a Web address, your computer sends a query to a directory service that matches that name to an IP address. Without getting too technical, it's basically the service that sends you to the correct site when you type a URL into your browser (or click a link).
You're not done yet. The next step is to install your blog software. This is generally done by uploading (using FTP) a bunch of files to your server and following some installation instructions. Be sure your Database is set up before running the installation. Setting up your Database is usually just a matter of selecting "configure database" from a list of options in your hosting Admin tool.
After your blog software is installed, you'll need to configure it and choose a template. If you want to import posts from another blog (such as your previous blog on Blogger) then find the Import/Export instructions and follow those carefully. Most tools allow you to export posts and comments from one blog and then import them into another blog. It can be a tedious task but well worth the effort.
Once your software is installed, you're ready to blog. That's a pretty simple process compared to all the other crap you just endured. I wish I could give detailed instructions for every step but there are just too many variables and options to cover and besides, others have done a much better job of explaining the details. Maybe I'll go back and give a step-by-step walk-through of each blog tool but for now, you have the basics of how to host your own blog.
April 10, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Every experienced blogger has, at one time or another, endured what some refer to as writer's block. It's a condition that afflicts both good and bad writers, though the symptoms are much easier to detect in good writers. And since writer's block (I call it inspiration drought) is an inevitable condition, many veteran bloggers have developed a veritable blogging "bag of tricks" which provide content in lieu of truly inspired writing.
So, today I reach into my blogging "bag of tricks" and pull out — "bullet points." Bullet points, or unordered lists, are a wonderful tool for bloggers to use any time but they are especially helpful during an inspiration drought.
Many blog tools have a list button built into the WYSIWYG Application. If you write your blog in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) mode then clicking the list button should set up your bullet points, just like in any word processing application.
However, if you don't have a list button or aren't working in WYSIWYG mode, here is how to set up your own list in HTML:
<LI>Second List Item</LI>
That's it. If you want more items, just add more lines. Be sure that you put the "< >" around your code tags and the end tags need the "/" forward slash. If you copy the example above, you'll be fine.
In the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) the "UL" stands for Unordered List and the LI stands for List Item. If you'd like your list numbered, or ordered, then change the "UL" to an "OL" for Ordered List.
Advantages Of Lists
There are many advantages to using a list in your blog post. Here are a few examples:
- Easy to scan for interesting items
- Can use incomplete sentences
- Lists can help organize thoughts
- People seem to naturally like lists - Top 40 - Top Ten - Sexiest Celebrities
- One warning about lists. A list item should be relatively short. If you create a list but all the items in your list end up being several sentences long then what you've really done is written a few paragraphs set apart by bullet points instead of spacing or indentation. That sort of defeats the purpose of the list because it doesn't really make the list easy to scan for content.
- Links to other sites are great in lists (Blogrolls are just lists)
- Don't make your list too long unless that list is really, really interesting
And that's pretty much all you need to know about lists. If I had anything to add it would be suggested list topics but I'll let you do that. What are some list topics that you've found helpful or interesting in your blogging experience?
April 3, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Don't Blog when you're sick. Instead, stay in bed and drink lots of fluids. Today I feel like crap. I'm sick with something and my cop-out post today is just to say that if you're sick, really miserable sick, don't blog. I probably could have written something in advance but it's been a busy week.
March 27, 2005
Posted by Matt Wood
A few weeks ago, my partner QBlog wrote about blogging Rule #1: Don't Suck. Sage advice indeed, but the truth is no matter how hard you try, your blog will suck. It will be unbelievably, mind-numbingly bad. You won't post often enough to keep people coming back, and you'll be mad at yourself. You won't get any comments, and you'll feel like a loser. Then you'll abandon your blog, and the internet will be littered with yet another carcass with six meaningless posts, four of which are apologies for not posting often enough. There are 12,000 new weblogs created every day, and 11,999 of them suck, including yours. So don't even try. Do the internet a favor, and don't clog it up with your "ramblings," "musings," or "random thoughts" in a blog. There are better places for it.
But I just want to speak my mind, you say. Great. Don't do it in a blog. Speak your mind to your friends, your family, your co-workers, or your classmates. If you're angry or excited about something, tell them about it, and get them angry and excited too. Don't waste your time hoping some intrepid, like-minded soul will stumble upon your sad, default-Blogger-templated website. After the initial delusion that everyone from Finland to New Zealand will care about exactly how you feel about Donald Rumsfeld wears off, you'll realize that you're talking to yourself. And you'll be more frustrated than if you hadn't started the damn blog in the first place. So turn off the computer and get out of the house. It's liberating.
But my family and friends don't want to talk about this stuff with me, you say. There's probably a reason for that. You're either A) boring or B) an obnoxious blowhard. Either way, take the social cues from your friends and keep it to yourself. You'll be doing all of us a favor. Remember that guy at your office, the one you can't stand because he's such a know-it-all and won't shut up? Don't be that guy.
But I want meet new people with the same interests, you say. Bravo. Allow me to introduce you to the humble discussion group, otherwise known as a message board, a forum, or an email message sent to more than one person at a time. With four million other blogs to contend with, hardly anyone will be able to find yours, let alone feel compelled to comment on it. That endless succession of "Comments (0)" you'll see after every post will demoralize you to the point that you'll consider leaving the spam comments around just to boost your numbers. So instead of setting yourself up for failure, seek out these other wonderful people, in a place like Slashdot, Kuro5hin, or a Yahoo group, where all the technical bits are taken care of, where the discussion is lively, and where chances are someone will respond to you within five minutes of pressing "Send."
But I don't want to meet other people, I just want a place to record my thoughts, you say. Awesome. Instead of spending $29.95 a month for broadband, $14.99 a month for web hosting, and $69.95 for a copy of Movable Type, take $1.50 and buy a notebook and a pen. They're age-old tools for creating what you really need: a journal. Let's say you're really pissed about what your boss said to you one day, or you secretly think your boyfriend is cheating on you. Are you going to write about that on the public web? Probably not. Every blogger self-censors no matter how tough they talk. So spend some time really getting things off your chest in a good old diary. Trust me, you'll feel better in the long run.
We can't all be so lucky to write for a quality publication like this one. So seriously, don't even try. A blog isn't the right answer for most of the reasons people think they need one. But you don't need one. Your energy is better spent conversing with real people, not hoping to be the one voice heard in the middle of a riot.
- By Matt Wood
March 20, 2005
Posted by QBlog
If you're new to blogging then you may also be new to linking content. Links, or hyperlinks, are references to other Web sites or files. Links are the lifeblood of the Web and can greatly enhance your content by providing context that wouldn't otherwise be available.
But how should you insert a link into your content? It's not as easy as it looks. For example, let's say you found a really cool video you want to link up in your blog post. Your post may look something like this:
Just saw an AWESOME Star Wars trailer. It's so cool. You gotta check it out. Click Here.
The above example is the wrong way to link the video. "Click Here" gives absolutely no context. It's also superfluous and makes the link virtually invisible to search engines.
Instead, try inserting the link within the flow of the content like this:
Just saw an AWESOME Star Wars trailer. It's so cool. You gotta check it out.
The link now makes more sense. It's about Star Wars and it's a trailer. It also doesn't disrupt the flow of your post with a big, intrusive "Click Here."
History of Click Here
In the early days of the Web, many believed that people needed clear directions about where to click. Those who were new to the Web didn't understand that an underlined word usually indicated a link and that by clicking that underlined word, they'd get access to additional content. And so "Click Here" was used as a way of guiding Web neophytes along the "Information Superhighway."
However, the Web has since become such a familiar fixture in our modern culture that such guidance is unnecessary and phrases like "Click Here" can actually detract from the value of content.
There are other ways to improve your linking. Using the "title tag" gives your link even more context. Example:
<a href="http://www.link.com" title="Descriptive Explanation of Link">Linked Text</a>
The title tag generally displays when you "mouse over" a link. Title tags also help search engines understand what the links are and makes it easier for them to return relevant results.
You should always be aware of the way links affect your content. Find the right balance. Here are a few tips:
- Too many links can be distracting and make your content difficult to read.
- Links that are too long can also negatively impact your blog post.
- Try to avoid linking punctuation. It's not necessary and looks silly. Same with "quotes" inside sentences. Linking quotes should be done by putting the link inside the "quote."
- Be careful with "hover links." If you don't know what a hover link is, don't worry about it. If you do, be sure that your hover link isn't bold or a different font size than the link text. Such spatial changes cause the text to "move" when moused over. It looks silly and can damage templates.
- IMPORTANT: Be sure you let people know when your link goes to a non HTML page. In the examples above I linked a movie file. I should have added some indication that the link was directly to a movie file.
Example: Just saw an AWESOME Star Wars trailer (Window Media File). This is especially important to do for pdf files, as you'll see demonstrated on this very blog.
- Linking the same word many times in a single post is unnecessary and annoying. For example, if your post is about the Saki Monkey then you shouldn't link the words Saki Monkey every time you mention the Saki Monkey. Two or three times is fine, and sometimes helps the post but if you have a lengthy entry and the word is used dozens of times, then don't link each instance of that word.
Finally, if you have anything to add to this post, please leave a comment. This post discusses text links only. I will discuss image links another day.
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday and provides blogging tips, advice and tutorials for blog newbies and veterans alike
March 13, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Reason: it could polish up the grey.
Put that, put that, put that up your wall
That this isn't country at all
Raving station, beside yourself
Keep me out of country in the word
Deal the porch is leading us absurd.
Push that, push that, push that to the hull
That this isn't nothing at all.
Straight off the boat, where to go?
Calling on in transit, calling on in transit
Radio Free Europe
- REM, "Radio Free Europe"
What Is RFE?
Radio Free Europe was "established in 1949 as a nonprofit, private corporation to broadcast news and current affairs programs to Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain."
RFE was founded on the conviction that the "first requirement of democracy is a well informed citizenry." By freely broadcasting to countries with limited (or nonexistent) press freedoms, RFE informed the citizens in ways their own governments would never allow. RFE provided an alternative to the propaganda and lies force-fed to the people by totalitarian regimes. Those regimes occasionally resorted to threats and violence in an effort to silence the voices of RFE.
However, RFE was not deterred and continued with its mission to inform those living in countries with controlled media.
Impact of RFE
The impact of RFE is hard to measure, though its influence in changing the political landscape in Eastern Europe (and the former Soviet Union) is undeniable. Boris Yeltsin, former president of Russia had this to say on the 40th Anniversary of RFE, March 1993:
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of your (RFE) contribution to the destruction of the totalitarian (Soviet) regime. No less important are your efforts to inform listeners in Russia about events in our country and abroad. We...rely on your objective illumination of Russian and international events... and in protecting democratic reforms.
I see some obvious parallels with the way RFE assisted in undermining communist regimes during the Cold War and how blogs are undermining the efforts of Pan-National, Mega Corps to control content. No, I'm not saying Sony Corporation operates like the former Soviet Union, but that blogs erode the historical power of the "Gatekeepers." That erosion is similar to the success of RFE and equally irritating to the regimes it impacts.
But unlike radio, blogs can be published by anyone, from anywhere. The Corporations know this but most have yet to develop a coherent strategy on how to deal with this new, blogging reality (similarly the Soviet Union failed to develop an effective strategy to deal with RFE and resorted to "jamming"). Books like The Cluetrain Manifesto and The Red Couch outline ways in which Corporations can embrace blogging (or the Net in general), maintain their Corporate identity and help the bottom line in the process.
Yes, the idea of surrendering control over information scares the crap out of the average CEO but the alternative is a slow, painful slide into irrelevance. "What if they say my company sucks? What if everyone starts complaining about product X?" Well, the truth is that the conversations will occur in spite of the Corporation's efforts to control them. So, why not earn some of that coveted "good will" by encouraging (maybe even facilitating) that dialogue instead of trying to control it? That makes sense and will, in the long run, help the bottom line.
Like RFE, blogs are here to stay. Like RFE, they can't be silenced by spin, "jamming," fancy propaganda or Google Bombing. Unlike the Soviet Union, Corporations can successfully coexist with blogs and even join in the fun. Does your business embrace blogging? Why or why not?
March 6, 2005
Posted by QBlog
One thing I love about blogs is that anyone can start one and say just about anything. One thing I hate about blogs is that anyone can start one and say just about anything. An obvious and valid criticism of blogging is that most blogs just plain suck. It's true, but not unique to blogging. Most books suck too. So do most television shows. And most radio shows. And most newspapers. And the list goes on. The norm is not to be great and wonderful and cool because if that were the norm, then... well you get the idea.
But, I digress. The point of this edition of Blogging 101 is to highlight some valid (and not so valid) criticisms of blogging. My hope is that you'll read the following criticisms and maybe learn what to avoid in your own blog. To keep things managable, I'm listing five of my favorite criticisms.
I F—ing Hate Weblogs! - "As we can see, clearly weblogs are
f—ing retarded as a general rule. Most weblog authors either think they
have something important to say (self-centered and egotistical authors), or
believe that they have an audience that cares what they think (delusional
and irrational authors.) What can be plainly seen is that most weblog authors
need something to push them back into the real world from the self-centered
and delusional world they have created for themselves."
"Blogging" Sucks - 'The problem with all of this is the nomenclature
of 'blogging' sucks. No, not 'blogging.' You know, 'BLOGGING.' I mean the
word 'blogger' or 'blogging'. It's meaningless. Saying 'bloggers are x or
y' is equally meaningless. Someone claiming to speak for bloggers is more
than meaningless it is delusional. Treating 'bloggers' as a group, a species,
a breed, or anything else is meaningless. As I noted previously, the word
'blogger' is an empty vessel into which too many, pour too much, in order
to mean too little."
Pans Blogging - "Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar
amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the
pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline,
a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting
to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's
no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure,
but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit."
- Blogging ...
Blah, Blah, Blah - "U.S. News & World Report reported last week
that several senior Republican senators — upon hearing that 'blogs'
had uncovered the Dan Rather scandal, helped to defeat Tom Daschle and pushed
for the resignation of CNN executive Eason Jordan — demanded that 'blogs'
be added to their official Web sites. Even though, as a Capitol Hill Web consultant
told the magazine, most of them hadn't the slightest idea of what a 'blog'
- I Hate Blogs - "People who write blogs walk around in their own sweet, sweet smugness, spending their days – I assume – collecting anecdotes ('and then, guffaw, he said "penis" out loud. In public!') and then littering the Internet with them, merely for posterity because, of course, if it ain’t on the Internet it doesn’t exist."
I'll just add that the one of the most important aspects of blogging is to know your audience. Understand who's reading your blog or who you want to read your blog and then write for them. If you don't want anyone to read your blog then why the hell are you blogging?
February 27, 2005
Posted by Matt Wood
Mo' Bloggin'! Mo' Bloggin'! Mo' Bloggin'!
Blog is such a ridiculous word. It always makes me think of something you might do after a night of hard drinking ("I really hit it off with this girl at the party, but then I blogged all over her sweater"). To make it worse, the word has mutated into other forms with equally nauseous connotations: blogroll (something you might find in the deli next to the head cheese), blogosphere (a geeky euphemism for a toilet bowl), and my favorite, moblogging. It's twice as much blogging! It's blogging with guys named Mo! Say it fast enough and you can't help thinking of the old "Homeboy Shopping Network" skits on In Living Color with Damon and Keenan Ivory Wayans. But stupid name notwithstanding, moblogging is one of the more exciting approaches to creating Dan Rather's favorite kind of website.
What is Moblogging?
The strict definition of moblogging is posting blog entries from a mobile device, in absence of a computer and standard blogging interface. Traditionally this involves posting pictures and brief descriptions from a camera phone or PDA. But as the concept gains popularity and the creators of blogging software build more functionality into their tools, moblogging is a blanket term for being able to blog anything from anywhere, at any time. Now you can publish more than just grainy snaps from a camera phone when you're away from a computer. You can send messages from an email or SMS client. You can even post video clips, or record a voice message as an MP3. If blogging is the future of journalism, then moblogging is the new version of man on the street reporting. It's the ultimate way to capture a crime in progress, to quote a politician's press conference verbatim, or document that chance meeting with Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen at the club and transmit it to the world immediately.
How Does a Moblog Work?
There are three requirements for moblogging: 1) capture the content (text and/or images), 2) send it to your web server sans traditional computer, and 3) publish it on the site. Until recently this wasn't such an easy task. The key component here is the ability to take the data sent in an email and post it to a blog. The trick is to configure a secret mail account on the blog server that is to be used only for posting. A blogger composes a message, attaches a picture, and emails it to this address that only he knows. An automated script monitors this mailbox for messages, and posts them to the blog as they arrive. Until recently, most blogging platforms didn't have the built-in capability to post via email, and truly mobile blogging could only be accomplished by dedicated hackers with the wherewithal to write their own scripts and cron jobs to process email posts.
How Do I Get a Moblog?
Textamerica was one of the first full-featured moblogging services. It is geared specifically toward camera phone users, and still offers an impressive array of customizable features. But it requires setting up a separate site that exists within their environment. Now all the most popular blogging platforms offer mobile capabilities out of the box so you can integrate a moblog into an existing site, right next to your reviews of The OC. Hosted services like SixApart's TypePad and Blogger have the most comprehensive features because the heavy lifting of moblogging, the magical scripty stuff that turns emails into blog posts, is maintained on their own servers. Users don't have to configure their own plugins or scripts.
TypePad is by far the most robust platform for would-be mobloggers. You can post text and photos from any device capable of sending email. You can configure special display templates for content posted via mobile devices, or assemble images into customized albums. SixApart has also teamed with Nokia to integrate with Nokia's Lifeblog software. Lifeblog lets users keep a personal journal of images and text messages on their cell phones, and synchronize this with a PC. Lifeblog content can also be posted directly to TypePad from a phone or the desktop. Blogger also turns a number of moblogging tricks, including a feature called AudioBlogger. Ever felt the urge to blog something but you can't write it down? With AudioBlogger, you can essentially leave a voicemail on your blog, and it publishes it to your site as an MP3. The folks at Blogger say, "It's fun at parties." Drunk dialing is redefined. TypePad's big brother, the original Movable Type, doesn't support moblogging out of the box, but it can be added with various plugins. WordPress and b2evolution, popular open-source blogging platforms, offer email-posting abilities, but also require special plugins to handle additional content like pictures.
Photo sharing services also enable moblogging features, and can serve as a slick go-between for people who don't use hosted blogging services like TypePad. Flickr, the wildly popular hybrid of photo sharing and social networking created by Ludicorp, is the 800-pound gorilla in this arena. Flickr users can post photos to their account with any email-capable device. It displays the newest images in a user's "photostream" chronologically as they are added, and people can add titles, descriptions, metadata tags, and leave comments on images, so the user's account home page can serve as an impromptu photoblog on its own. But Flickr doesn't stop there. You can configure a Flickr account to post images directly to your blog, provided your platform uses a standard publishing protocol. Flickr users can publish photos from their stream to any Blogger, Movable Type/TypePad, LiveJournal, or Manila site, or any site that uses the Blogger, Atom, or MetaWeblog API (which includes WordPress). Additionally, Flickr users can configure a second email address that first posts a photo to their photostream, then posts it to a blog. This way Flickr handles much of the dirty work for bloggers who don't use a hosted platform like TypePad. Flickr also offers a number of scripts that bloggers can use to display images on their site, in effect creating moblog sidebars or "badges" if said images have been published on the go.
Moblogging is a great way to revive a dying blog, or to liven up even the most active one. The ability to post snapshots from a party or jot a quick email to your site extends blogging to anywhere you might find inspiration. It's both liberating and addictive. Mo' bloggin' indeed.
- By Matt Wood
February 20, 2005
Posted by QBlog
The latest buzz in the Blog Realm (and everywhere else it seems) is something called "podcasting." The term "podcasting is "a portmanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting." The primary goal of podcasting is to make audio (broadcasting) portable by automatically downloading programs onto mp3 players like the iPod. Four Minutes About Podcasting is a video that gives a brief overview of the technology, how it works and why it's so much fun. However, as the video points out, you don't really need a portable device to join the podcasting revolution, you simply need an internet connection, some podcasting software and a computer that plays mp3 files (all of them do).
How Does It Work?
There are two obvious aspects of podcasting: the consumption of the podcasts and the creation of the podcasts. First, let's look at podcasting consumption (finding and listening to great audio). To start listening to podcasts you'll need:
- A computer
- An Internet connection
- Software to play mp3s like iTunes or Musicmatch (and chances are you already have something on your computer)
- Some podcasting software like iPodder
- An audio card (for your computer), speakers, headphones or a portable mp3 player like iPod
Assuming you're familiar with steps 1-3 let's address step 4. Once you've installed the podcasting software you'll need to find programming that you would like to add to your list of podcasts. Finding podcasts is easy. Either look for an "XML" link on your favorite blog or check out one of the many podcasting directory sites like iPodder.org, Podcast.net and Podcast Alley. If you look around long enough, you'll find something you like.
Once you find some programming, add it to your podcasting software and you're almost ready to go. The next step is to download the program and then either listen to it on your computer or transfer it to your portable music player. It's really pretty simple. If you're still confused, type "podcasting" into Google and you'll find many great resources to help get you on your way.
But what about those who want to create their own podcasts? Well, beoming a podcaster is obviously more complicated than simply listening to existing podcasts. There are many different ways to publish a podcast but I'll go over some of the basics. You'll need:
- A computer
- A microphone
- Audio editing software like Audacity, Garage Band or Sound Forge
- An FTP client or some way to get your mp3 to the Web
- An RSS feed with "enclosures" which is just a way to include your podcast (more on that later)
Now, once you've created your super-cool podcast and uploaded it to your server (or wherever) you'll need to include that podcast in your RSS feed. This is done by an "enclosure" tag that looks a lot like this:
<enclosure url="http://www.yoursite.com/podcast/mypodcast.mp3" length="10306438" type="audio/mpeg" />
Enclosure is where the file lives, length is how big it is, and the type is what it is.
Yeah, But How?
Getting your podcast "enclosure" tag in your RSS feed is easier said than done. The most direct way of doing this is to go in and edit your RSS feed each time you publish a new podcast. However, that's the most cumbersome method and serious podcasters will quickly get tired of manually editing their RSS feed for each new program.
There are several ways to simplify the process of including podcasts in your RSS feed and I recommend you find the method that fits your needs. The goal is to end up generating something similar to the example found at iPodder:
<title>We need one of title or description, or it ain't RSS</title>
<enclosure url="...mp3" type="..." length="..."/>
<podcast:alt_path url="...torrent" type="application/bittorrent" length="..."/>
<podcast:prodnotes type="text/opml" length="..." url="..."/>
<podcast:payload_info duration="..." guid="..."/>
<podcast:enclosure_protection md5="..." length="..."/>
<guid>it's an item guid, not an enclosure guid, or it's not RSS</guid>
I know, if you're like me you're wondering how in hell you're going to easily generate something like that. Well, it's really not hard at all and some blog tools include features that do this automatically.
- Movable Type 3.x - There's an enclosure plugin that makes this possible
- TypePad - There's a sort of hack that uses Feedburner (a good service I've used before)
- Blogger.com - There's another sort of hack that also uses Feedburner
- BlogHarbor - It's a built-in feature so it's pretty darn easy
- Radio Userland - This blog tool also includes a method for publishing podcasts and it's an integrated feature
- Wordpress - The newest version of WordPress (now 1.5) fully supports podcasting so if you haven't upgraded yet, do it now
- The Other Blog Tool - If your blog tool isn't listed, then my suggestion is to use Feedburner and try to include your podcast that way or search for a hack
Finally, you just really need to get in there and start podcasting. I've directed you to many resources that should be more than sufficient in getting you started with either listening to podcasts or creating your own. If this little tutorial has helped you at all, please let me know. If you have any tips or links to include, please share.
February 6, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Sharing doesn't come naturally to humans. It's a learned behavior. Children must be taught the benefits of freely sharing with others. Their tiny minds try to grasp that while sharing may seem burdensome, distressing and generally uncomfortable at first, the simple act can result in rewards far beyond their imagination. Such behavioral lessons serve as the foundation of our development and it's why the behavior of Mother Teresa is held in higher esteem than the actions of Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge.
So what does all this goofy sharing talk have to do with blogging? Well, like the Interent itself, sharing is a fundamental aspect of blogging. Most bloggers just love to share and most of them do it for free. They share helpful links, tips on tweaking some HTML, writing TiVo hacking tutorials, recipes or the latest news about city government and they do all this without any requirement for compensation. They do it for free. They do it because they enjoy it.
Business minds have a hard time grasping this blog-sharing mentality. "Wait, you're posting tips on how to raise saltwater fish and doing it for free? I don't get it. Why for free?" Similar questions were asked of the Internet's founding fathers. This idea of sharing is what fuels today's Open Source communities. But it runs contrary to traditional notions of how and why people are motivated to "work."
Bloggers aren't so mystified by the idea of sharing. Most of them "get it." They know that when they were first introduced to blogging, someone probably shared something with them to get them up to speed. They understand that sharing feeds a sort of "Blog Karma" and that "it's better to give than to receive."
So, how are you sharing? What are you doing to give back to the blog community? Or are you still in the learning phase, not quite ready to share? That's fine too. Just remember that as long as bloggers continue to share, blogging will remain a special way to communicate. When the sharing stops, so does blogging as we know it today.
January 30, 2005
Posted by QBlog
Where's that Sunday Blogging 101 post? Well, Matt Wood was scheduled to post a really awesome, killer post about some kind of blog stuff but his wife went and had a baby so this Sunday you get nothing cause God knows my well is dry. Don't worry, it will be back next week with something totally awesome.
January 23, 2005
Posted by QBlog
In a past issue of Blogging 101 I provided some of the practical reasons that people blog.
The list is obviously incomplete but it gives a general glimpse of why blogging has become such an attactive publishing tool. However, aside from the practical reasons for blogging there are the all-important personal reasons for blogging. And there inevitably comes a time when every serious blogger must answer the question "Why Do I Blog?"
Why Do We Blog? Why Do You Blog? Why Do I Blog? Such self-reflective questions certainly aren't unique to blogging but the answers often reveal a great deal about ourselves, our motivations and perspectives.
I spent some time on Google searching for others who've tried to answer the "Why Do We Blog?" question. Here's some of what I found:
Sandhill Trek: Why Do We Blog?
"...Because doing cc: world was cooler and more leveraged than doing cc: (some finite group of people). it's still like that. I literally see blogging as emailing to everybody."
"obviously, the same way that people do anything they aren't paid for for a lot of reasons. I have always been a politics junkie. Well, no, I have always been an argument junkie -- if I couldn't argue about politics, I doubt I would be as interested in it. I started the blog in part to hopefully improve my writing skills, but mostly for the fun of having the arguments."
Sons of Mosiah: Why Do We Blog?
"A chance to 'check' myself. I have certain beliefs and interpretations of Gospel principles that may be unlike anyone else's. Now, I could just ask my wife what she thinks of my way of interpretation. But she thinks in the same way I do!"
"It gives me the strange pleasure of being known to new people..."
"A personal blog is one of the most flexible forms of content management for capturing knowledge, in my opinion. It's easy to post an idea without having to waste a lot of time organizing it."
So there you have it, a few examples of people answering the "Why Do We Blog?" question. Why do you blog?
January 16, 2005
Posted by QBlog
A past issue of "Blogging 101" addressed some of the pros and cons of enabling comments. Bloggers who decide to allow comments on their blog (with or without restrictions) will probably face the dreaded Internet plague known as "comment spam". Comment spam is similar to email spam (which we're all painfully familiar with) but serves a somewhat different purpose. Email spam is generally designed to attract business (I don't know who it attracts either) while comment spam is designed to improve the Google Rank of a site. Email spam is meant to be viewed by a human, comment spam is meant to be viewed by search engines.
Spotting Comment Spam
Comment spam, like email spam, is pretty easy to spot. It's usually a comment with dozens of links to gambling, financial or porn sites. Sometimes the links are accompanied with a comment like "Nice site" or "I agree with you." Such comments are obviously constructed to make the spam seem legit but the excessive linking gives away the true intent.
How To Fight It?
I could give a list of methods for fighting comment spam but someone else has already done that. Movable Type has posted a "Guide for Fighting Comment Spam" and it's a must read for everyone who enables comments. Even if you don't use Movable Type to power your blog, it provides some valuable tips on how to kill comment spam dead.
The simple way to effectively end comment spam is by requiring registration. The advantage of registration is that every comment is tied to a specific user account and any account can be disabled if it's found to abuse a blog's comments. The disadvantage is that the casual Web surfer may not want to go through the hassle of registering with a service just to post a comment. Such obstacles may discourage legitimate comments and could stifle valuable discussion.
Why would anyone bother with comments when it's such a hassle to fight comment spam? That's a good question. My best answer is that one of the things that make blogs unique is their comment capability. Requiring registration seems too much like a forum or bulletin board. Disabling comments makes a blog more like a column and less like a blog. For now, I'm keeping comments enabled here. I may disable comments in older posts (another way to manage comments) but I like being able to facilitate a variety of discussions. I think it makes for a better blog. You may disagree but that' just how I see things.
Fight the good fight. Comment Spam Must Die!
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday. Past issues can be found under the "Blogging 101" heading on the Archives page.
December 26, 2004
Posted by Matt Wood
If 2004 was the year blogs came of age, it’s because they were forced to. Bloggers covering the American presidential election and the war in Iraq became a standard part of the mainstream media conversation. The contentious political season gave many of them their wish: to be treated like professional journalists. But greater exposure also demands greater accountability. Blogging is a free-form medium; its biggest strengths are transparency and the lack of a traditional editorial control structure. Bloggers enthusiastically seize upon any public issue and make it their own. But this enthusiasm, and the speed with which it can be communicated to the world’s most public forum without any oversight, can lead bloggers into dangerous ethical territory of plagiarism and libel. This year, as blogs became some of the primary sources of political coverage, their enthusiastic creators were forced to grow up. If they wish to be taken seriously, they need to adhere to a new set of ethical standards.
Weblogs are so popular because they empower people to add their voices to the formerly closed media discussion. Bloggers are famous for their editors-be-damned approach to writing. Their unfiltered view of the world injects personality and style into the news cycle. Bloggers wear their biases on their sleeves. They post gut reactions to events within seconds. Unburdened by the constraints and costs of a major media organization or publishing house, the only audience they have to please is themselves. But the blog’s greatest strengths—individuality, immediacy, and style—may also be its greatest weakness. Speed and candor are not substitutes for accuracy and fairness. As Dan Rather can attest, bloggers gleefully pounce on mistakes made by the media. But they seize on mistakes by other bloggers with greater ferocity. A blogger in a rush to break a story will shoot himself in the foot with a sloppy or false posting.
During the spring of 2004, Sean-Paul Kelley saw a tremendous spike in traffic to his political blog, The Agonist. Kelley posted nearly live battlefront news from Iraq at a prolific rate, up to several dozen updates a day. Occasionally he attributed his information to other news organizations, but much of it seemed to come from a bevy of inside sources around the world. However in April, after being accused of plagiarism by another blogger named General Roy of Strategic Armchair Command, Kelley admitted to Wired News that he copied many of his posts verbatim, without any attribution, from an email newsletter by Stratfor, an Austin, Texas intelligence company. In some of his posts he even claimed Stratfor’s data came from his own confidential sources.
The questionable nature of his sources notwithstanding, Kelley is a talented, passionate writer. At the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas that same spring, he deftly skewered the current media coverage of the war, offering up his site as an alternative. Why would such an ambitious and talented reporter risk his reputation by plagiarizing? Kelley told Wired that he did it out of career ambition. “I was trying to develop my own sources,” he said. “If I could throw stuff out there to get some eyebrows raised as to ‘who is this guy?’ then I might get some encrypted email [leaks from anonymous government sources].”
Reaction to Kelley’s revelation in the blogosphere was mixed. The Washington Post’s Cynthia Webb said that many of her readers didn’t think it was that big of a deal because blogging is supposed to be a free-flowing medium. The fact that Kelley copied some of his material mattered less than getting the information out in the first place. But many others, including Dean Esmay of deanesmay.com, said that Kelley was clearly wrong. “I don’t think it’s about journalistic standards per se,” said Esmay. “It’s about being a decent, ethical human being. You credit your sources period.”
Ethical issues loom large for a blogger like Kelley who aspires to be treated as a professional journalist. Many people have already tried to answer these questions about blogging ethics. Some sites suggest that bloggers follow a modified version of the Social of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Rebecca Blood, in The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog, recommends six standards that she says can “bring transparency—one of the weblog’s distinguishing characteristics and greatest strengths—into every aspect of the practice of weblogging.” Her guidelines include disclosing conflicts of interest, noting questionable or biased sources, and linking to reference material. These suggestions can help bloggers identify themselves, show that they acknowledge competing points of view, and took the time to research their work.
Sean-Paul Kelley has likely ruined any chance he had at achieving true credibility. Other would-be blog reporters who find themselves with his opportunity need to strive for the same level of integrity and accuracy as the traditional journalists they so often denigrate. But even if you post only personal anecdotes and simple daily journals you need to be concerned with ethics. Pages deleted long ago live forever in the Google cache. You should feel accountable for everything that comes out of your keyboard.
Keep a simple rule of thumb in mind: when writing about anyone other than yourself, be they friends, family, politicians, musicians, or athletes, pay them the same amount of respect and fairness you expect in return. It’s a blogger’s twist on the Golden Rule: Blog about others as you would have them blog about you. This doesn’t preclude criticism, disagreement, or satire. But it does demand adherence to facts, diligent research, proper citation of sources, and old-fashioned fair play.
Ethical blogging is really about professionalism. If you take the time to check facts, credit sources, and correct mistakes, it shows that you care about your work and the reputation it engenders. This extra effort also places you on solid legal ground from which you can defend your work. Most bloggers have little interest in being treated as a serious journalist or scholar. Little harm can come from a few innocent mistakes or inaccuracies. But considering the ease with which anyone—think potential employers, litigious corporations, love interests—can find anything you have ever posted on the web, a few minutes to check your work is time well spent.
- By Matt Wood
December 19, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Many blog tools have a "categories" feature that enables bloggers to organize their posts by themes instead of just dates. Categories make searching for archived content a much easier process. Admittedly, I haven't used categories on this blog until recently but I now see the importance of this organizational enhancement.
Blogger.com doesn't suck, they just don't offer categories... yet. Some get around Blogger's lack of categories by creating multiple blogs under a single profile and using each blog as a separate category. This can work if a unified template is used but the problem is that the dated archives can't be shared across each blog. My advice for Blogger users, write Blogger and request a categories feature but in the meantime, clearly name your posts to simplify searches of your blog content.
I've seen some blogs with 40 categories. The author creates a new category for almost every post. That's just silly. If you're using categories then think of a broad theme rather than something overly descriptive. If you sometimes post about Beanie Babies then maybe a category called "Collectibles" instead of Beanie Babies. That way you can also put your posts about Madame Alexander Dolls under the "Collectibles" category.
You also don't necessarily need to categorize every post. If most of your posts are about the same thing, which is also what your blog is generally about, then you might want to save categorization for those special projects. I started a weekly series on another blog called "Sunday Memories" where memories of childhood toys and technology were shared every Sunday. Setting up a "Sunday Memories" category would have been perfect for such a project. I've recently started switching over all these Blogging 101 posts to a Blogging 101 category which you can browse through on the Archives page. Things like that are perfect for unique categories.
Some blog tools allow for multiple categories but I advise extreme caution when assigning a post to more than one category. Remember, categories can also become hard to sort through as they get filled with posts. Adding content that's also listed in other categories may not be the best way to serve your readers. I'm not saying you can't use multiple categories, just use them with caution.
Don't name your categories something ambiguous. If your category contains posts about dogs, don't call the category "Mr. Binky" even if that's the name of your dog. Most people who don't regularly read your blog will be clueless about the significance of Mr. Binky and such a label will only confuse them and bloggers should avoid confusing their audience as much as possible. I'd change the Mr. Binky category to something called "Dogs." Not as cute but much more descriptive.
That's about all I can say about categories. Have anything else to add? Be my guest.
December 12, 2004
Posted by QBlog
I've adapted the Make Your Own Blog: TUTORIAL for the Blogging 101 series. If you don't yet have a blog, this article provides some reasons to publish a blog and how to get started.
Do you have something to say about Quixtar, Network Marketing, Democrats, Republicans, last night's meal or your trip to China? The topic doesn't really matter, if you have something to say to the world or a group of friends then blogging is for you.
What's a BLOG?
Not quite sure about blogs? Don't sweat it. They're really quite simple. Think of them as a type of hybrid Online Journal where you can easily publish whatever's on your mind. Short for Web log, blogs are frequently updated posts arranged chronologically. They often reflect the personality of the author but many show an astonishing amount of diversity (see a sampling of that variety). Rebecca Blood has written a brief history of blogs and Dave Winer developed a sort of definition at Harvard Law.
Great question. Every day more and more people begin blogging. They realize that blogging allows a type of publication and conversation that simply didn't exist a few years ago. Those with little or no technical experience have discovered the power of instantly reaching a global audience and how that power can impact individuals and even entire communities.
Blogging takes advantage of the Web's strengths (links, frequent updates, low cost, global audience, no censorship, etc.) and minimizes some of the weaknesses (required technical knowledge).
There are a few reasons why blogging might appeal to you.
- Simple. Blogs are quite simple to set up and require little or no technical skills. If you can fill out an online form, you can start a blog.
- Free. Many blogs are free. If you don't want to spend money to be heard, just start a free blog.
- Control. You decide what to discuss. The content is yours. There are no rules except those you make.
- Community. It's amazing how many people you can connect with by simply publishing your thoughts, opinions and feelings on a particular topic or life in general. A good blog can be a way to connect with people, make new friends and plug-in to a vast (and ever expanding) community.
- Voice. Blogs provide a format for you to be heard on a global scale. If you want your voice to be heard, there isn't an easier or simpler way to make that happen than by blogging.
How to get started?
First you should decide on a blog tool. There are several to choose from but I recommend Blogger for those who want something simple and free. If you don't like Blogger try one of the tools listed at The Weblog Compendium.
To set up your blog on Blogger just follow the simple instructions. You'll probably want to host your blog for free on Blogger's Blog*Spot service so be sure to select that option when you sign up. Also, be sure that you choose an appropriate name for your blog. I recommend keeping it relatively short.
I've set up my BLOG, now what?
Now you just start typing. Write about whatever you want. Try to keep it brief but there really are no rules. Just keep in mind that whatever you say on your blog may be read by anyone and it may stay on the Web forever, even if you delete the blog. Once something is published on the Web, it's in the public domain and almost impossible to remove.
Don't libel. You should also keep in mind that libel laws apply to blogs and you are accountable for what you say. Even if you publish a blog anonymously, there are ways to track you down should there be some legal reason to do so.
Aren't Quixtar IBOs forbidden from having a BLOG?
I'm not a lawyer but from what I've determined, Quixtar IBOs can publish a blog as long as they don't violate any of the rules governing personal Web sites. If you're a Quixtar IBO and want to start a blog about your business, please check with the appropriate people to be sure that you're not violating any Quixtar rules. I do have a little experience with this and I'll relate my personal understanding of the rules. I could be wrong so please don't take my word for it.
Quixtar allows personal sites as long as you don't post your IBO number, try to directly recruit people or promote the products. You cannot try to sell products and you can't make any sort of definitive claims about earnings potential. If this is wrong, please send me the documents that prove I'm wrong.
Read a PDF copy of the laws governing personal IBO Web sites. Quixtar sent me this copy in early 2003 (the rules may have changed).
I want comments on my blog, how do I do that?
Blogger now has a commenting feature as part of the service. However, you can still used third-party comment systems if you would like.
Some commenting tools:
Now you're blogging!
That's all there is to it. Blog on folks.
December 6, 2004
Posted by QBlog
One characteristic that distinguishes blogs from many other Web sites is freshness. Because blogs can be updated quickly, easily and from almost any location they often exude a sense of immediacy and urgency. And it's that fresh quality that gives readers a reason to keep coming back, to see what's new at their favorite blog.
But how can a blogger maintain a fresh blog? Well, it's easier said than done but a blogger must be committed to publish consistently. Blogs that are updated "whenever I feel like it" are usually updated with less frequency as the blog ages. Consistent bloggers develop a personal blogging schedule. Whether it's 10 posts a day or three posts a week, they create a routine and try to stick to it. And readers learn to rely on that routine and will regularly return to the blog to see what's new.
When I was first blogging I would post the moment I had an inspiration. Sometimes that inspiration would result in five or six posts, all in one evening. Then a couple of days later I struggled like mad to come up with the most banal post imaginable. What I learned from that experience was pacing. If I had six posts I'd look to see which post had a "shelf life" and would still be worth reading a day or two later. If I had one with a "shelf life," I'd hold it over for another day.
It's this pacing that has helped me avoid the dreaded blogging burnout. On days that I really don't feel like posting anything, I post something from off the shelf. This technique helps me to maintain a publication pace that's comfortable for me and fits my lifestyle.
Find Your Groove
Prolific posting does not equal a quality blog, though sheer volume has been known to compensate for many shortcomings. But generally, bloggers should never sacrifice quality for quantity. To avoid a low quality blog I recommend that you find your blogging groove.
Figure out the style of your blog (funny, serious, poetic, photography, etc.), your publishing sensibilities (one post a day, etc.) and then start consistently posting. After a while you'll find your groove and once you do, commit to post consistently.
I know it's not always easy to stick to a blogging schedule. Ironically my personal schedule was thrown off this weekend as I experienced a string of technical difficulties which impeded my blogging. Yet I kept thinking, "I need to get that Blogging 101 post up because people are expecting it." Those expectations (real or imagined) help motivate me to stay consistent. And there's also another reason why I try to blog consistently. I really enjoy reading other blogs that publish regularly and I just believe that if I like that quality in other blogs, then there's someone out there that likes that quality in this blog.
And that's actually one of the reasons this blog exists. When I started looking for Quixtar info over two years ago I was disappointed that there were no blogs on the topic. And my desire to read a blog about Quixtar inspired me to start my own blog about Quixtar. Thus, Quixtar BLOG was born.
November 21, 2004
Posted by Matt Wood
Every blogger deals with the malaise that sets in after a few months of posting. We wonder where the fire went, and we struggle to find the motivation to update our sites. We read the past few posts and discover that we apologize for the lack of updates more often than we actually post something new. And when we do hold forth, we ask ourselves, just what is so different about my site that will make people want to read it?
Unfortunately, of the millions of sites published today, very few bloggers take the time to differentiate their site from the rest. In this installment of Blogging 101, I will show you some strategies for getting beyond that default Typepad template and adding some value to your blog.
The easiest way to make a blog stand out is to flex your geek muscles (or convince a ringer to help you). Most popular blogging tools like Movable Type, WordPress, or Blogger offer ways to tweak or extend their capabilities. Thriving user communities have taken advantage of these tools’ extensibility and open APIs to develop plug-ins and functionality not included in the standard tool. For example, the Movable Type Plugin Directory (http://mt-plugins.org) catalogs hundreds of code modules that trick out a vanilla MT install by incorporating photo galleries, managing comments, performing special formatting, or even displaying local weather. Most of these plugins come with detailed installation instructions, so you don’t have to be an accomplished hacker to take advantage of them.
Unfortunately, technical options for bloggers who use hosted services like Typepad or Blogspot are limited to the functionality of the tool. These services work well to introduce you to the basic concept of blogging and website management. However, to make the most of your website, you should host it at your own internet service provider. Many providers cater specifically to bloggers, and some will even install and configure blogging software for you. A quick search of the web will turn up dozens of reliable hosting companies.
If you host your own site, you can take advantage of server-side scripting languages like PHP, Active Server Pages, or Perl to build a more dynamic site. With just a little programming knowledge, you can write your own code to manipulate blog content and templates. WordPress is especially amenable to this, as it is written entirely in PHP. Bloggers with hosted sites can also design their pages using Cascading Style Sheets to control content appearance and formatting. A combination of CSS and a scripting language can turn a basic blog into a polished, professional website.
Planning Your Content
If you don’t have the time or technical ability to overhaul your site’s code, you can still make a significant impact by planning and organizing your content. Bloggers, like all writers, should write with a purpose. This is especially true of bloggers whose sites focus on a specific topic or business goal.
A great way to build consistent readership and motivate yourself to keep writing is to develop recurring themes or ongoing projects on your blog. This can be as simple as posting a top five list every Friday, or as involved as producing a running series of columns like Blogging 101. The point is to develop a rhythm, a regular schedule that will keep readers coming back and give you motivation to keep writing. Set deadlines for yourself. Treat these projects as priorities, just as important as your work or school assignments. Last year, Eric and I started a project called 31 Flavors of Blog where we highlighted a different type of blog every day for a month. Researching blogs, finding interesting or unique takes on the format, and writing the summaries was hard work, but it paid off. Word of the project spread quickly, and reader feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Interaction with readers is the most rewarding part of blogging. Every blogger loves to read comments and respond to emails, so why not make this interaction a key feature of your site? Write a public response to a salient email, or highlight the most interesting or thoughtful comments. Maintain a static list of the most active discussions on your site. You can find many plugins or extensions at the sites mentioned earlier to help you do this automatically. Participating in the discussions that evolve at your site and responding to reader inquiries will lend your site added credibility and help you develop a distinct voice as the creator of the site.
A strong authorial presence is a valuable way to improve your blog, but you can also feature other voices too. Invite other bloggers to post on your site. Ask subject matter experts or guest authors to contribute in-depth articles. These added perspectives will provide more valuable information to your readers. And don’t be afraid to feature dissenting views. Controversy is exciting, and the ensuing debate will be both informative and entertaining for your readers.
Pay attention to details and add finishing touches to round out your content. Include relevant images whenever possible. Sites like Flickr (http://flickr.com/) or TextAmerica (http://www.textamerica.com) provide services to help you organize photos and post images to your blog wirelessly from a camera phone. Post links to related subject matter to encourage your readers to research the topic further. Take adavantage of marketing programs to highlight media or other products you mention on your site. The Amazon Associates program (http://www.amazon.com/associates/) lets you post direct links to any of their merchandise and pays you royalties for purchases made from your site. Google’s AdSense (https://www.google.com/adsense/) helps you incorporate targeted advertising by rendering ads based on the content on your site.
The initial thrill of blogging wears off a month or two after you start. Varying your content with technical tricks, regular features, user interaction, and targeted visual media will help you maintain the passion and creativity that sets good sites apart.
The internet is littered with sites where you can learn more about the technical tricks and content strategies mentioned in this article. Here are some of the most useful:
- A List Apart, for general tips on web design and usability – http://www.alistapart.com/
- Amazon Associates program – http://www.amazon.com/associates/
- The Blogger developer community – http://www.blogger.com/developers/
- eDevCafe, for web development and administration – http://www.edevcafe.com/
- Flickr, a photo-sharing/social network that includes tools for publishing images to your site – http://flickr.com/
- Google AdSense, the search engine’s targeted ad service - https://www.google.com/adsense/
- Movable Type Plugin Directory – http://mt-plugins.org/
- Movable Type Support Forums – http://www.movabletype.org/support/
- O’Reilly, official site of the popular technical publisher - http://www.oreilly.com/
- The official PHP site - http://www.php.net/
- TextAmerica, a moblogging community – http://www.textamerica.com/
- WordPress Support Forums - http://wordpress.org/support/
- WordPress Wiki - http://wiki.wordpress.org/
- By Matt Wood
November 14, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Bloggers should read other blogs. As obvious as that statement may seem, it's still important for bloggers to regularly peruse a variety of blogs. Such habitual blog consumption helps a blogger stay "plugged in" to the blog community, get ideas for posts, learn new blogging techniques, discover the latest blog technology and so much more.
Why Read Blogs?
The main reason that blogs work the way they do is because of connectivity. Similar to peer-to-peer networks or the open source community, blogs can work together as unique but connected units to discuss, criticize or popularize various issues or topics. Blogs that aren't connected to this community (meaning the blogger isn't aware of what some other blogs are covering) can miss out on this incredibly democratic power. That is not to say that reading other blogs is necessary to publish a quality blog, but it sure helps.
How To Read Blogs
I spoke to a New Media class at the local college last week and one of the students asked me how to find good blogs. It is an excellent question and it took me a moment to recall how I found the great blogs that I regularly read. Here are some of my "secrets" for finding a variety of blogs:
- Follow the links in your blog commments. When people comment on your blog, they often leave a link to their blog. Follow that link and see what types of things they are saying. I found several of my favorite blogs by following comment links.
- Use blog services such as Technorati, Daypop, Feedster or The Weblog Review.
- Follow the "Blogrolls" of other blogs. Find a blog you really like and then check out all the links on that blog's blogroll.
- Go to Google News and search for "blog." You'll find at least a few articles about blogs and those will generally have links to blogs worth writing articles about.
- Visit Blog Award sites like The Bloggies. There you'll see a bunch of blogs you never heard of but that others think are worth hearing about.
- Use a News Reader. News Readers are applications that gather RSS feeds (primarily but not exclusively from blogs) and display them in an easy-to-organize space — sort of like email. I use NetNewsWire (for the Mac) but there are many different tools out there, find one you like.
What Kind of Blogs to Read
This blog is obviously about Quixtar and MLM but that doesn't mean I only read other blogs about Quixtar and MLM. Neither should you. If your blog is a niche-blog (about one specific topic) be sure and read other blogs on that niche BUT you should also read blogs that have nothing to do with your blog topic.
For instance, if you blog about dancing monkeys, then don't exclusively read other blogs about dancing monkeys. Diversify. Read blogs about politics, computers, movies, romance, etc. Of course, be sure that you're reading blogs you like, don't just read a blog about politics because everyone else is doing it. If you don't like a blog, don't read it. Simple as that. My point is that you should diversify.
Also, don't get stuck in a rut. If you end up getting comfortable with reading the same 20-30 blogs a day, branch out and try to find a couple of new blogs each week. Many bloggers burn out because they think they're saying the same thing as all their "favorite bloggers." Don't fall into this trap. Keep cycling fresh blogs into your regular routine.
And finally, link to blogs. If you find a blog you really like, add it to your blogroll. Don't hide it from the world, let others know that you enjoy the content at your favorite blog. It's a nice way of saying, "Thanks for freely giving me something that I like to read." You obviously can't add every blog to your blogroll but it's just a nice gesture. And don't feel that you need to ask permission to link either. I've gotten many requests over the years from people asking me if they can link to my blogs. The spirit of the Web is that we don't need permission to link things up, we just do it. While I appreciate the sentiments behind such requests, they're entirely unnecessary. Don't ask, just link.
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday and shares my experience and knowledge of blogging with you in the hope that it will (in some small way) help you become a better blogger.
November 7, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Adding graphics to your posts is a great way to spice up your blog and make it more interesting — at least visually. And let's face it, graphics can also add some much needed context to your comments about the giant spider that tried to eat your mouse. It's up to you to decide which graphics to use, how often you use them (daily, weekly, whenever, etc.) and how many to use in each post. Just remember that dropping a few colorful images into your blog can really kick it up a notch (as Emeril would say).
How To Add Graphics
If you're hosting your own blog then adding images is pretty simple. Just upload a graphic to your server and include the image code in your blog post. That code should look something like this:
The path to "myImage.jpg" should reflect the path that's on your server. If your unsure of your directory structure, just use the full URL path such as "http://www.myblog.com/myImage.jpg." So the code would look like this:
Many blogging tools have WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editors that make including images even easier. Just follow those instructions and you're in business. The main thing to remember when including graphics is to make them look nice on your blog. You don't want them to be so big that they break your blog template and you don't want them so small that they lose their impact. Use your image editing program to size your graphic to something that fits your blog (maybe 300 pixels wide).
I believe that graphics in blogs should usually allow the text to flow around them. This isn't always possible (depending on the graphic of course) but when possible, align that image to either the right or left. This can be done by inserting the image html at the beginning of a block of text and adding an "align" instruction like this:
<img src="myImage.jpg" align="left"> Here is the text and the image is BEFORE the text.
If you're using a free blogging service and don't have access to a server to host your images you may want to try something like Blogger's Hello service or the free TechImage service. There are other methods so search around and find something you like.
Hotlinking is when someone uses the image tag (<img src="http://notyoursite.com/img.jpg">) to display a graphic hosted on another site as if it were hosted on their own site. This is a common practice among people who don't have servers of their own. Some refer to the practice as "bandwidth theft" but I haven't found a single law or court case specifically defining it as illegal. I also take the view that the person hosting the image has a certain level of control over how that image is used and can take steps to prevent Hotlinking if he chooses. For instance, one can disable the display of images on Web pages not hosted by that server. This renders Hotlinking useless. For more perspectives on Hotlinking read one man's experience with Getty Images and Hotlinking.
Personally, I think Hotlinking is fine in certain situations. If I blog about the new iPod, then doing a Hotlink to Apple's iPod graphic seems fine to me. And because I'm Hotlinking, instead of hosting the graphic myself, I may be avoiding some potential copyright issues. It's probably best to avoid Hotlinking in most cases but sometimes it may be a good way to highlight a specific graphic. Use your common sense.
If you'd like to see examples of some blogs that really benefit from regularly including graphics check out these links:
- Gizmodo - A gadget review blog
- Chicagoist - Well, the name sort of says it all
- Fresh Perspective - "Thinking Out Loud"
What blogs do you enjoy that regularly make use of graphics?
Blogging 101 publishes every Sunday (it previously published on Fridays) and provides tips, tricks, advice and tutorials that may help improve your blogging.
November 5, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Blogging 101, a popular and helpful feature of this blog, is moving to Sundays. Don't fret kids, all that great blogging info you've come to love will still be here but on a different day. It's like when the TV Networks move a great show to a new time slot. Only this isn't TV and I'm not moving a show.
So, Blogging 101 moves from Friday to Sunday. And yes, that means a new entry will be here THIS SUNDAY. SUNDAY. SUNDAY (read that with your deepest monster-truck announcer voice).
What is Blogging 101? Well, if you're asking that then you're obviously new around here but I'll explain anyway. It's this thing where I share my vast knowledge and opinions about the art of blogging with you, the reader. If blogging isn't your "thing" then Blogging 101 might not be either. Of course, this doesn't mean that Blogging 101 will be the ONLY thing here on Sundays. There may be other wonderful perceptions and witicisms as well. And of course, there is the QBlog Radio which updates EVERY SINGLE DARN DAY!
What's Replacing Blogging 101 on Fridays?
So glad you asked. It's a brand new, never before seen feature called the "QBlog Help Desk" (blatantly ripped from the Crazy Apple Rumors's "Crazy Apple Help Desk"). I'm a longtime fan of the feature and I thought, "why not do the EXACT SAME THING at the Quixtar BLOG?" See how clever I am.
So, tune in Sunday (SUNDAY, SUNDAY) to read the next installment of Blogging 101 and tune in next Friday for the brand new "QBlog Help Desk."
October 29, 2004
Posted by QBlog
What is a blogroll?
A blogroll is simply a list of blogs. Virtually every blog has a blogroll (or should have one) and it's a good way to showcase other blogs. There is no right or wrong way to set up a blogroll though many people use some service like Blogrolling.com to power their links, making them more dynamic. Whether you opt for a service or to manually add links, if you blog then you definitely need a blogroll.
But what type of blogroll should you set up? Well, there are many different types of blogrolls and I suggest choosing a style that best fits your blog audience, your personality and your blog design. Or you can mix different styles and create your own unique blogroll. It's simple and fun.
Really Long List
The Really Long List is a blogroll that tries to include every blog the blogger has ever read. It can be several hundred links long and is usually not organized into any sort of categories or themes. I don't care for this style because it's just too overwhelming for my sensibilities.
These blogrolls only list the blogs of personal friends. No outsiders allowed. Such exclusivity generally annoys those not in the clique which is pretty much everyone on the planet.
Link Exchanges aren't so bad but they can morph into Really Long Lists. They work by adding any blog that links back to your blog. So if Blog A links to your blog, you'd add Blog A to your blogroll. Even if Blog A is the worst blog you've ever read, you still add it because you want to get links. Another name for the Link Exchange blogroll is "Link Whore." Another mark against this style is that nobody reading your blogroll knows if you like the listed blogs or not and is less apt to believe they're worth visiting.
Popular blogs use the Google Roll to help out less popular blogs. It's a sort of benevolent type thing but there's also the hope that the less popular blog will return the show of support by linking back.
A Recommended Blogs list is usually full of blogs that the author really believes are worth reading. Readers can trust that a blog on a Recommended Blogs list is worth reading. Also, the blogger generally reads each of the blogs listed on a regular basis.
Lists that are broken into categories or cover specific topics can be very useful. Such lists can be lengthy at time, but they are carefully arranged into groups and sub-groups to make it easier to understand what each blog discusses. I really like this style and have found it most helpful.
Everyone who's ever run a blogroll has probably come across a dilemma — when is it ok to de-link a blog from the blogroll? I've run into this a few times myself. People can get their feelings hurt if you de-list them and so sometimes links are left up to avoid such a confrontation. Some blogrolls get really long because the author keeps adding people but doesn't cut any blogs for fear of offending someone. I call this the Charity Roll. The way I've dealt with it in the past few months is just to make the quality of the blogroll my top priority, regardless of how someone may feel.
There are other styles and I generally mix a few together with my various blogrolls. Figure out what you want to do with your blogroll and remember, a blogroll can say a lot about your personality. What do you want to say with your blogroll?
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search.
October 22, 2004
Posted by QBlogLast year I wrote an article optimistically titled "Weblogs Will Save The World." In the article, I laid out some of the reasons I believe Blogs are important. I've decided to republish the article here, to hopefully reach a new audience and expand the dialogue about blogging. And in case you're wondering, the original title was purposely a bit "over-the-top" so as to stir up some discussion (it worked). The new title is less sensational but works nonetheless.
- This article was originally published in May, 2003
“The fundamental principle
behind the Web was that once someone somewhere made available
a document, database, graphic, sound, video, or screen at
some stage in an interactive dialogue, it should be accessible
(subject to authorization, of course) by anyone, with any
type of computer, in any country. And it should be possible
to make a reference – a link – to that thing,
so that others could find it.”
- Tim Berners-Lee: “Weaving the Web” - 1999
When Tim Berners-Lee (TBL) created the Web he wanted the content to be instantly and equally available to everyone and he also wanted everyone to be able to link to that content without restrictions. This vision of the Web is now a reality and it has manifested itself in ways that TBL never imagined.
The most important change caused by the realization of TBL’s vision was wresting monopoly control of content from the hands of the Gatekeepers. For centuries (since the printing press at least) content and its distribution had been controlled by the rich and the powerful. Yet, in just a few short years, the Web had removed much of that control and put a lot of the responsibility for content into the hands of the masses. This was one of the sexiest features of the non-commerce side of the Web and is, in part, what drove the wild success and expansion of the Web during those early years.
However, even though the Web provided content to “anyone, in any country,” it was still incomplete. Browsers, HTML and multimedia made it easy for the masses to receive compelling content from a variety of sources but it was not so easy for those same masses to produce content. While creating and publishing content to the Web had become infinitely simpler and cheaper than similar pre-Web methods, limitations remained that often prohibited those lacking the aptitude or skills from creating and distributing content.
A prime example is the “Home Page” craze of the late 1990s. Millions of people created free home pages and had virtually no idea how to maintain, manage or present their content and the result was a giant graveyard of poorly designed Web sites with stale content. The problem was that the masses did not have the time, energy or desire to master the skills required to create and distribute content. While most did have the desire to share personal content, they did not have the motivation to invest the personal resources that a Web site demanded. The costs, while still lower than pre-Web costs, were still too high (or at least perceived to be too high) for the average Joe to realistically consider becoming an active content creator and publisher.
Think of the Telegraph. That technology revolutionized communication. It was fast, essentially free and easy to use – providing you learned Morse Code. Now imagine installing a Telegraph line in every home in America during the Nineteenth Century. In this scenario there would be many who would sit down and learn how to use those dots and dashes and subsequently utilize that knowledge to communicate with others. Yet, there would also be many, many more who didn’t want to spend the time learning Morse Code and would decide to wait a few years for the telephone. Those who opted for ignorance had just as much, if not more, to say as the masters of Morse Code, but for whatever reason, didn’t feel the same compulsion to master a new technology. This is an obviously flawed example but the point should remain clear, the Telephone was much easier to use than the Telegraph.
To put this in the context of blogs we can say that blogs
are the modern day telephones. Or, to use a more appropriate comparison, blogs
are the Browsers of Web publishing.
The Impact of Blogs
Blogs have made the creation and publication of content as simple as browsing the Web. Blogging tools have removed virtually all the technical barriers that previously prohibited publication by the masses. Now, everyone with something to say or share can do so without needing to learn new skills.
Giving the power of publication to the masses signals the end of the Gatekeepers. There are no more gates to keep when everyone on the planet can publish to everyone else. The paradigm has shifted. Now individuals can run their own mini-Publishing Empires and this has the former Gatekeepers wringing their hands and trying to figure out their role within this new paradigm.
Within this emerging landscape a debate
is raging among bloggers, technologists, former Gatekeepers
and self-proclaimed pundits about the true impact of blogs.
Many argue that blogs are merely a passing fad while others
believe that blogs will soon replace much of traditional media
methods. The truth is probably somewhere in between the extremes
but it is interesting that blogs share some characteristics
with the Open Source and Peer-to-Peer movements.
- Driven by community rather than profit
- Often subversive to existing power structures
- Unmanaged and often unmanageable
It is those very characteristics that make the future of
blogging so difficult to predict and the impact so hard to measure. Yet, while
this debate rages on, a very significant aspect of blogging is being entirely
overlooked. That aspect is not how blogs are affecting the Web or media as a
whole but how blogs affect the individual.
Blogs And You
Prior to blogs, content basically flowed one way in relation to the individual. Content was created and distributed by the few and then funneled down to the individual for consumption. While methods existed for individuals to distribute content, those methods were primarily direct distribution through email, letters, telephone or group distribution with a newsgroup or bulletin board. Mass publication and distribution wasn’t possible for the masses and so individuals passively absorbed content. It flowed in one direction. (see Figure A).
The funnel effect is basically how humankind has received content throughout history. The Web, while vastly increasing the amount of information available (and making it affordable), did little to modify the funnel. The result is that the individual remained a consumer of content without acquiring any real method to become a content producer. Blogs have changed that model.
Now the funnel flows in both directions. A funnel and an inverted funnel. The consumer is now a distributor (see Figure B). Blogs enable individuals to compete and participate in content creation and distribution and that participation is having a profound effect.
There are four specific ways that blogs are causing change among the masses.
Media consumption has traditionally been a passive event. While each medium requires varying degrees of attention and concentration, very few require active participation. Reading a book demands thinking and concentration but the act of reading very rarely motivates the reader to write his own book. And, for the few who do receive that authorial inspiration, many obstacles stand between a finished book and publication. The passive nature of traditional media consumption may be by design or it may be due to circumstances but the reality is that blogs DO NOT ENCOURAGE passive behavior. In fact, blogs are the polar opposite of passive media consumption. Blogs encourage people to publish their content for the world. By definition this is an activity and blogging encourages this activity.
Contrast a habitual television viewer, aka couch potato, with a blogger. The couch potato watches programming and maybe talks about what he saw at the office water cooler. The blogger may watch a similar show or possibly read something interesting on the Web and blogs about it for the entire world to read. Additionally, the content that the blogger published could quite possibly be someone's media consumption tomorrow and maybe inspire posts by other bloggers.
The point isn't that bloggers will change the world but that blogging is an activity and getting involved affects people in many positive ways. Additionally, by blogging, the participants internalize the idea, inspiration or issue that was published. The result of this internalization a sense of "ownership" because personal time and energy was invested in the blog post.
Knowing that people (many or few) consume your content (read your blog) causes a sense of responsibility (to varying degrees). It is similar to an actor or a journalist discovering that people admire or enjoy their work and instantly receive an additional motivation to do their very best. Not everyone in life knows what it's like to have an audience but blogs are changing that and soon, everyone who chooses to will have an audience. It will be a decision of choice instead of circumstance.
Links are votes. Commenting about a topic is a vote. Bloggers are trading in votes. With search engines like Google and services like Technorati, Daypop and Blogdex, every blogger who adds a link or bitches about a movie, enters a vote for that particular topic or Web site. The more bloggers that link or comment, the more important that topic becomes and the more visible it is to the rest of the world. The more visible the topic becomes, the more it will be talked about and the cycle will continue.
That is only one example of how linking and commenting on a topic can register a vote of support or condemnation. Without a blog (or a Web site) it is impossible for an individual to have anything close to that type of impact on a particular topic. Empowering individuals with the ability to actually make a difference with something he or she cares about is a powerful thing. Be careful with those links.
Because bloggers have a means to publish anything to a global audience they begin to view the world around them through a blogging lens. Everyday events suddenly become potential blog posts. An awareness develops that didn't previously exist. An otherwise ordinary individual is now seeing things in her personal experiences as possible content for a global publication.
Journalists learn to view life through the lens of “the
story.” Artists learn to perceive the world as inspiration for their next
masterpiece. Musicians learn to gobble up sounds and experiences as fuel for
their next platinum record. Mathematicians learn to see numerical patterns in
nature and are motivated to develop Nobel-winning equations. And now bloggers
are learning to view everything around them as inspiration for their blog.
Maybe all of this optimism about blogs is unwarranted. I've often doubted my personal feelings about the role blogs will play in the future of the Web and modern society. Maybe they will fade into oblivion to be shelved next to the Cue Cat and the <blink> tag. I really don't know. I'm not a futurist. I just know what I see and what I observe is a continued lowering of technological barriers that previously prevented the masses from participating in media creation.
I have a friend who mixes his own audio on his computer. I have another friend who is making an "indie" film on a DigiCam. I know someone else who makes beautiful art with an old digital camera and some editing software. There is a long list of people doing things that weren't possible a couple of decades ago. The Gatekeepers really are dead and what is rising up out of that vacuum may be blogs or something like them.
As those obstacles disappear people will begin to change. How will they change? I don't know. But I think that history shows us that the change is probably a continuation of empowering the people with the skills and tools that were once held by only a few. We, the masses, are keeping our own gates and I'd like to think blogs are helping us do that, even a little.
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search. Tune in next Friday when Blogging 101 covers blogrolls.
October 14, 2004
Posted by QBlog
I'm giving Blogging 101 a week off. It will be back next week. It just really wanted to visit Las Vegas for some reason, even though it's not old enough to gamble. Go figure.
October 8, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Most blogs are just personal publications. They don't have an editor. There is no payment for posting. No contract is signed determining the content. A blogger is free to write about whatever he wants (within the law), however he wants without much external interference.
However, no blog is an island. By definition, a blog must have an audience (some larger than others) and that audience has certain expectations (justified or not). One of those primary expectations is that posts do not change, at least not without a warning.
How does one modify a blog post? Very carefully.
Blogs aren't perfect. Mistakes are made, misspellings occur, facts turn out to be false, minds are changed. Those are some good reasons to modify a blog post but to maintain credibility, those changes should follow some basic rules. I'm not listing universal rules, just the rules that I follow. You should figure out your own rules for your blog. Think of these as guidelines.
- Denote major updates to a post by the word UPDATE or the phrase New Information. That new information should usually append the post, not replace it.
- Misspellings can almost always be corrected without notice. Really bad misspellings might warrant a funny remark, especially if it was commented on by a reader.
- Rewording portions of a post (for clarity) without notice is acceptable if the overall content remains unchanged.
- Bad grammar can be corrected without a notification.
- If an negligent error is made, admit to that error ASAP and provide a correction.
- Never, ever delete a post. If a post must absolutely be deleted, then it should be followed by a detailed explanation.
Keep in mind that it's your blog and you can do whatever you want to your posts. But if you don't follow some simple rules, you'll lose your credibility and probably your audience as well.
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search. Tune in next Friday when Blogging 101 deals with... something. Haven't yet decided what the topic will be.
October 1, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Blogging ain't easy. It looks easy but it isn't. Sure, it's not exactly rocket science but it's not as easy as falling of a log either. Veteran bloggers often experience blogger burnout and limit, or altogether end, their blog activity.
So, how can one avoid blogger burnout? Well, one way that works for me is to nurture some healthy blog competition. Of course there probably won't be any prize for your efforts but those with competitive natures know that the true reward is in the contest itself.
How Does This Work?
The first thing you should do is find a blog you admire and actually read. You don't have to personally know the author(s) but just be sure you know the blog and that it's similar to your blogging style.
Secondly you need to evaluate how your blog compares to the "competition." Does the other blog have a better design? Is it updated more frequently than yours? Are the posts shorter, longer or funnier? Do people seem to like the other blog more than yours (as measured by stats, comments or a general perception)?
Next determine how you can improve your blog. Should you post more frequently? Should you redesign your site? Should you add more links? Should your posts be more personal?
Finally you must work to improve your blog by using the competition as a kind of barometer. Competing can keep you focussed and motivated to continue publishing quality material (whatever that may mean to you).
It's All In Fun
I've been using this competition strategy for a couple of years and it's purely in fun. And while it's been effective for me, it may just be a waste of time for your blog. Everyone has their own way of doing things, I'm simply sharing my way. Hope it helps someone out there. It's helped me.
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search. Tune in next Friday when Blogging 101 deals with Modifying Posts!
September 24, 2004
Posted by QBlog
One of the coolest features built into most blogging tools is the ability to allow reader comments. As blogs have gained popularity, it's the comment functionality (in part) that has appealed to individuals and businesses who wish to explore new and dynamic methods of communication. As you undoubtedly noticed, I enable comments to virtually every post on this blog and I do so because I believe it adds value to my ramblings.
Comments: Enable or Disable?
Because I enable comments on this blog, some may wrongly assume that I'm some "raving comment advocate." In fact, I regularly read (and enjoy) blogs that do not enable comments and I even run a couple of private blogs that don't allow comments (yes, private blogs do exist - oxymoronic as it may seem). The truth is, the decision about whether comments should be enabled or disabled is determined by the author (blogger), the purpose of the blog and in some ways the blog's audience. Different needs and goals call for different methods.
Value of Comments
I've often said that blogs are a lot like talk radio in that blogs provide a format for one dominant voice (blogs = blogger; talk radio = host) and many secondary voices (blogs = comments; talk radio = callers). Rush Limbaugh is arguably the pioneer of modern talk radio and his show is defined by his persona (love him or hate him) and could probably sustain much of its popularity without taking a single caller. Yet Limbaugh does take callers (some days more than others) and I believe such exchanges add depth and value to his show. "Open Line Friday" wouldn't really be much if the lines never opened. Similarly, blogs with comments enabled often become much more dynamic and can allow new ideas, new discussions and new debates to flourish. Web communication at its finest.
Problems with Comments
There are some very real problems with enabling comments, though some of these problems are being solved through technology. The main reason bloggers decide to disable comments is the fear of being "flamed." As a blog grows in popularity the potential for flaming or comment spam tends to increase. Managing such nonsense can become a royal hassle and some bloggers would rather avoid such a task. However, as Danny Ayers points out, you won't know for sure until you've tried it. Additionally, requiring comment registration (like Blogger) or adding improved filtering (like MT 3.1) diminishes the impact of flamers and spammers.
As I stated previously, a blogger must truly understand her purpose for blogging and what she wants to accomplish. The Uber Geeks present a compelling reason for disabling comments in "Disabling Comments, The Pros":
...for those that decide to disable comments, an added step would need to be taken on behalf of the reader in order to comment. They would actually have to post about it on their own blogs. Genius. This not only creates countless amounts of links back to their Blogs from various other blogs, but it also puts to use the Trackback feature, which if used correctly, can really help the blog in search engine results.I agree that such a move is pretty clever but don't forget that it also eliminates the instant feedback and exchange of opinions and ideas. There is a trade-off and again, the blogger must know what he wants to accomplish.
I've already mentioned some of the benefits of enabling comments. A couple that I haven't mentioned is the potential for meeting new people, discovering new and interesting blogs (via the links left with the comments) and letting the audience feel that you (the blog author) are approachable and accessible. Such access often nurtures a strong relationship between the author and the readers, a relationship that is much more difficult to achieve when comments are disabled. I've experienced this first-hand and it's an awesome thing.
So What Should I Do?
The decision about comments is up to you. Personally I'd like to see them enabled on almost all blogs because I prefer the real-time feedback and the open exchange but it's really just something you'll have to decide for yourself. Just remember, if you disable comments you need to be prepared to clearly explain why you've disabled them.
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search. Tune in next Friday when Blogging 101 discusses the value of Blog Competition.
September 17, 2004
Posted by QBlog
The Page Layout debate has raged within the Web design community for years.
One side prefers the fluid (or liquid, floating, variable, flexible, stretchy, elastic, resizable, expandable, etc.) layout where the content on a Web page expands to fit the browser. Most of the fluid layout advocates argue that fluid layouts enable a Web page to exploit the space available on higher resolution monitors.
The other side prefers a fixed width (or static) layout arguing that Web usability guidelines demand such width restrictions on text. They concede that fixed width sites often "waste" unused space (on hi-res monitors) but believe that the usability advantages make up for the waste.
I don't seek to end the Page Layout debate as it relates to ALL Web sites but I will try to educate and share my opinions about this debate as it relates specifically to BLOGS.
Fixed of Fluid?
I believe that most blogs (with few exceptions) should utilize a fixed width layout. The problem with a fluid layout is that on hi-res monitors, the content can s t r e t c h across the screen making the text harder to read, not easier.
I've linked an example page showing a fluid width above a fixed width block of text. Take a moment and look at this page. Be sure to maximize your browser (or make it fit the entire width of your monitor). Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.
Ok, back already? Great. Now you should have clearly seen the difference between the two blocks of text (unless you have an old 640x480 resolution monitor). The variable width block is legible but much harder to read than the fixed width block below. Why is that? Well, when you stretch text out across a page like that, it's harder for the eye to follow and it's easier to get confused about which line you're reading and just makes more work for the reader. And readers are already struggling to read Web pages because "reading from computer screens is tiring for the eyes and about 25 percent slower than reading from paper" (Useit Alertbox)
And so, because most blogs are text-based, bloggers should try to format their blog layout to make it easier for readers to consume. There is not a specific width to use but the 300-500 pixel range seems to work best for most blogs.
Yes, there is a sort of middle ground called "concertina padding." This maintains some of the variable width elements while preventing text from spreading too far across a page. If you simply must have a variable width blog, I recommend using something like "concertina padding."
Some have asked me "why should blogs be fixed width and while search engines or Slashdot-styled news portals can get away with variable widths?" That's a good question. My best answer is that most blogs are meant to be read (though they are often scanned prior to reading) and while we like to keep those posts brief, we rarely restrict every post to a specific word count. By contrast, search results and news portals are designed to be scanned rather than read (a teaser style) and are usually limited to a set number of words for each entry.
I obviously advocate fixed width blogs. My blogging experience has shown me that text-heavy sites (like blogs) work best when some width constraints are in place. You may choose to disagree and my only response is that I believe it's ok to do what you feel is best with your blog layout as long as you can clearly explain WHY you've implemented a specific layout design. One of the first rules in art or literature is that it's ok to break or bend rules as long as you know that you're bending or breaking them and can explain why you're doing the bending or breaking.
Now go out there and Fix those Widths!
Blogging 101 publishes every Friday and the archives can be found by typing "Blogging 101" into the blog search. Tune in next Friday when Blogging 101 tackles the controversial topic of "blog comments - to enable or disable?"
September 10, 2004
Posted by QBlog
Today I'm launching a new series called "Blogging 101." The primary purpose of this series is to share my blogging knowledge and experience with the Quixtar BLOG audience. I realize that many of you have no interest in the specifics of blogging but I hope that you'll at least try to follow along and expand your understanding of what it means "to blog."
For those interested in blogging, I hope you find this series helpful and informative. I've been blogging for over two years and have learned a great deal about how to utilize this powerful publishing tool to effectively communicate. I also believe that this series will help me become a better blogger. Some say that the best way to learn is to teach. I want to put that to the test. I'll be doing that every Friday beginning with today's Lesson One.
Lesson One - Be Brief
Now that I've dispensed with introductions, let's jump into "Lesson One." Bloggers should be brief whenever possible. As Mark Bernstein says, "Write tight. Omit unnecessary words."
Don't be afraid to edit. While blogs are necessarily informal, a good blogger will remove extraneous words to keep his writing as short as possible. See if you can condense that ten word sentence into five. In blogging, less is often more.
Another way to be brief is to avoid rambling. If you have more than one or two points to make in a blog post, consider breaking it up into several posts. I've often written a lengthy post and later broke it into two or three separate and distinct posts.
What If I Can't Be Brief?
I understand that all posts can't be brief. If after editing and condensing your post, you find that it's still really long, try categorizing the post by subjects or themes. Use sub-heads to notify the reader about the content of each "section." See what I've done in this post? Using sub-heads breaks the post up and allows readers to scan it for compelling content.
On the information superhighway (which will be part of a later "avoiding cliche's" lesson) blogs are like billboards. If a billboard is too wordy, it loses its effectiveness. So too with blogs.
Be Brief - Summary
Here's my personal blogging rule of thumb.
Edit my post. When done editing, edit again. After that, edit some more. And finally, right before publishing, edit one last time.So, in keeping with the spirit of this "lesson," I'm done. Tune in next Friday when I discuss "floating vs. fixed width" blogs.