I've had a couple people talk to me lately about the potential of starting up blogs of their own. But they've never done anything quite like it before and are curious as to what all is involved.
I've been "blogging" for quite some time now in one form or another (if you check my monthly archives, you'll see a radically different looking site prior to June 2005). Be it static HTML or Blogware like Typepad, I've been keeping an online journal since March 1998. Hard to believe it's been that long.
I'm not trying to profess that I'm some kind of expert on the topic, far from it, in fact. There are a lot of technical questions to which I do not know the answers. But I feel that I can help in some ways and I'd like to try to do just that for up-and-coming bloggers. I love what I do and if I can instill the same love of the art in someone else, yeah, I'll do it.
My one friend -- some of you may have seen him commenting here under the moniker MadIrishMan -- wants to start up a sports blog. I think MIM would be great at it. He has a lot to say about sports (I know firsthand) and has a definite opinion that he would like to share. He's tried it on some message boards, but the boards failed to muster up much attention (not his fault, he wasn't admining them, just contributing content). I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with him the other day giving him some basic blogger information and I really look forward to whether or not he actually does it.
But, I'd like to share a few points with anyone who may be considering blogging:
1. Blogging is a commitment
I know blogging may sound like a "cool" thing to do, but it's also a commitment. When you start to write and you find your voice and gain an audience, a level of expectation winds up being set, whether you realize it or not. It's an implied contract between you and your readers. If you start out writing every day, people are going to expect the trend to continue.
The attention span of the average Netizen is very short (I don't have exact numbers), and this does translate to tolerance level as well. Think about it from your own perspective... if you visit a site that you like and suddenly it's not updated on as regular a basis as it was or maybe weeks pass and nothing happens at all, are you going to keep checking back? Well, you're not the only one who is like that.
If this scares you, try just typing up potential posts for a few weeks beforehand. Pick a number of times per week that you want to write and give it a shot. That's your target and now you must see if you can keep up with it. No, a few weeks is not a long time. But, it tends to be enough to discover if writing on a schedule is the thing for you.
I'll be honest, if there's any one thing I hate about the Blogosphere, it's when bloggers go the way of the Dodo. Some will announce their impending departure and give reasons. Those people I can respect, there's a reason why their blog is dying (personal, professional, etc.). But these are the rare cases.
The majority of blogs that "die" are really just abandoned. They just sit there in limbo, sans updates, collecting e-dust and being comment spammed by everyone and their mother.
This I hate.
2. Topic or no topic?
There are benefits and fallbacks to both.
While having a specific topic can be a good thing, it is not entirely necessary. I really don't have a specific topic at all and I've still wrangled up a few regular readers here and there (I love you all!). But, arguably, having a fixed topic can gain you an even wider range of loyal readers. I was just looking at a political blog out there and this guy's comments number in the hundreds on a daily basis. And he's only been doing this for about the same amount of time as me, to boot. Would I like those sorts of numbers? Maybe. But I don't want to give up what I've got by limiting myself to a fixed set of topics. I'd get bored. But that's just me.
If you have a passion for one arena, then blog it! But remember the implied contract I spoke of in point 1. Much like when you start blogging a certain number of times per week, if you start by blogging about one thing all the time, your readers are going to expect that on a regular basis. If you suddently jump tracks, you risk alienating your loyal readers. So make a decision before you start and stick to it.
Just ask Rosie O'Donnell. I believe her "track jumping" was what killed her talk show. She was the queen of daytime so long as she was her fun-loving self. The second she went Psycho-Politico, her show died because her viewers felt alienated (this is not proven, just my theory). Hell, I stopped giving a rat's ass after she tore into Tom Selleck and his involvement in the NRA.
If you want to change subject matter, start a new blog. You can cross promote, sure. But don't force one group of readers to have to wade through content they don't want to see on a blog where it doesn't "belong" (in their eyes, of course).
3. Design, design, design
For the most part, your blogware will dictate what you can and cannot do with your blog. Some blogware packages allow for greater freedom than others in terms of design.
Let me share something with you that was told to me when I first started taking both marketing and Web design classes...
And, no, I'm not talking about the 70s glam metal band featuring Gene "I'll Bet My Tongue Can Tickle Your Lower Intestines" Simmons. In the marketing realm, this stands for either "Keep It Short and Sweet" or "Keep It Simple, Stupid." I prefer the latter.
It is far too easy to logjam your site full of little bits of glitz and glam that really don't do much to enhance the overall reading experience. I was a sucker for this myself. TypePad offers up a bunch of sidebar features and "widgets" that you can use to add content to your site. And, let me tell ya, they can be very pretty to look at sometimes.
But, don't fall victim to this stuff just because it looks nice. Make sure that what you want to add is going to be a benefit to your readers and not just there "because you can." If you're sitting there for several minutes debating whether it will be a good thing, then it's probably not. Or if you're coming up with a brainful of reasons why you shouldn't use it and the only thing you can come up with as a plus is that it's "sooo pretty/cool/nifty," run. away.
I had a lot of different features on my site that I thought were cool at the time and I have since deactivated them simply because it's just unnecessary fluff. This determination, of course, is purely subjective. Each person needs to make their own decision as to what is good for their site and what is not. While sports headlines might not work well in my sidebar, they could be a great add on for MIM. Who knows?
I read a great post a little bit ago on Citizen of the Month about blogware and blogger add ons that anyone might find of interest. Make sure you read into the comments section, as well, as Neil's readers offer some great insights of their own. Make sure you have some time on your hands, too; there are a ton of comments on this post.
Another great bit came from Secondhand Tryptophan yesterday. Karl writes about what things on sites annoy the everloving crap out of him. And, to be honest, I see eye-to-eye with him on nearly every point he makes.
4. Don't be afraid to ask for help
If you have a blogger friend, never be afraid to ask them for advice, comments, criticism, etc. You may feel like you're imposing, but, more often than not, they are more than willing to help out. Each of us are part of one giant global community of writers.
Heck, my decision to switch from static HTML to XML-based blogware was heavily influenced by information given to me by Dave at Blogography. He really helped me to understand what was what and how some of these features like RSS feeds could help me.
I don't mean to frighten anyone away from blogging. I pray I did not. If anything, I hope I gave you something useful to think about to help you refine your site and make it something great.
Now if only I could turn this little rat trap into "something great."
Damn, too late. You all have already come to expect mind-numbing crap from me. I wouldn't want to disappoint.