Chapter 10. Blogging Voices

Simplest piece of advice that I was given by a former boss can be easily applied to ANY blog.

"Re-read before you publish."

Electronic text can expose unintended meaning easily and it will also make what you say a lot more focused. If nothing else, it should help you catch spelling mistakes!

? Gordon McLean,

As well as utilizing the number of links pointing at a page to determine its overall relevance, Google also places a high emphasis on words used in title and header tags to determine its PageRank. This can sometimes have unintended consequences.

Here in the UK, a popular TV show called "Pop Idol" gripped the nation's imagination, including mine. Every week we would tune in, and vote for our favourite "Pop Idol," with the lowest-polling contestant being eliminated from the next round. After many, many weeks and a nail-biting final, I posted a (somewhat embarrassing) entry to my online journal entitled, "Will Young Wins Pop Idol 2002."

For a couple of weeks, nothing unusual happened. My friends posted a few sarcastic comments, light banter was exchanged, and everything (including my critical faculties) slowly returned to normal.

That was to be the lull before the storm. Almost two weeks after the previous-last comment was posted, came this message:

"We all think Will is gorgeous and Chloe wants to marry him!! He has a brilliant original voice and we r gona be buying the single."

This was to be the pebble that began the avalanche. For some reason, Google had ranked my posting one place higher than the official Will Young web site, and the screaming hordes descended.

After a month or so of, "will i luv uuuuuuuuuuu" comments, my page dropped off the first page of results and (much to my relief) the postings finally came to an end. But it certainly goes to show that however few people actually visit your blog on a regular basis, you can end up being swamped in the most unexpected ways.

? Chris Carline,

My blog's not all that special. I'm not an "A-lister," but my readership is decent enough a small community of friends and a few people I don't know personally. However, one of my entries seemed to really start a fire and draw a crowd:

In this entry, I discuss a random charge to my credit card by "PORNOTHERAPY.NET." When I searched on the Web for information about this "company," there was nothing to be found. However, Google spidered my site shortly after I posted my experience and hosts of people started flocking to my blog entry, sharing their experiences, their hypotheses about how our credit card numbers were stolen, and who they thought was responsible ( The domain was traced to an "Alex Perman," and one visitor even went so far as to post pictures to his web site of the address that was listed on the domain's WHOIS record. It amazed me how a simple entry on my blog, one that wasn't any more or less notable than any others on my site, managed to draw such a crowd. It sparked a mini-militia.

While the mystery of Alex Perman and was never really solved, that one entry showed me the power of blogging: random communities forming around common experiences to solve a problem. Pretty impressive, really.

? Ryan A. MacMichael,

Blogging isn't just a weblog. It is a way to share your opinions and thoughts to the rest of the world. If you post interesting things, share links with other bloggers, and post comments on other blogs. Linking is the way of the Web, that is the key to successful blogging.

? Greg Hard,

You maintain a weblog because it interests you, not because there is an audience for it. If you do it because people are watching you, then what you do is not weblogging. Just playing a musical instrument where you can play for the enjoyment of it and you can play for others to listen to, but they are different activities.

That being said if you do have an audience, then treat them well and they will treat you well.

? Lindsay Marshall,

As Dave Winer says, it's the two-way-web. Blogging really enables me to have a conversation with an audience, with feedback via comments and mail.

In February of 2002, I decided I'd like my blog audience to be able to contact me more directly. I considered publishing my instant messaging ID, but I didn't want to constrain my audience to using the same system as me; I also didn't want to have to maintain too many persistent IM buddy relationships.

I solved the issue by building a small browser based chat window and embedding it right in my blog. People can come and visit my blog, and if I'm online, chat directly with me. I like to say that where my web site used to be a brochure about me, it's now a tradeshow booth. You can come through and browse the articles, and if I'm there, talk to me directly.

During the development process, I met a ton of people who came to chat with me and help to guide the development itself. Since then, I've met hundreds of bloggers and browsers, and it's done wonders to get me closer in touch with the community.

? Brent Ashley,

To the new blogger wanting to gather a general audience: be mindful of your readers. By mindful, I mean that the visual display of text shouldn't scare anyone off. Don't tyP3 L1K3 th15!! Keep the text readable with contrasting (but not distracting) colors, use adequate sized fonts, make sure lines don't scrunch together, and try to exercise proper punctuation practices. You don't want to annoy/confuse newcomers. Or if you do, that's fine: just remember that visitors will usually scramble to find a nicer looking page immediately without ever looking back.

Writing style is another matter. Anything goes, but it never hurts to be somewhat engaging. Try to treat each new entry as an improvement in clarifying your voice: the more individuality you put in ? avoid lumping detail after detail in endless lists, rants, outpourings, etc. ? the greater the chance that readers will get to know you and wait on the edge of their seats for your next story or bit of wisdom.

Even after all is said and done, your readership may never grow big. No worries. You have to do this for yourself first. All that other junk is for if you want to put on a good show for the little window you're opening into your life.

Myself, I put up an online journal to record and share my thoughts. It's interesting (and embarrassing) to see my mentality just a few months before, the stretches of days of whining, moping, etc. Aside from the memories, I think it's helped to improve my writing a bit. A handful of folks have also taken interest in what I have to say; to their credit, I think they're just bored.

? Kaiser Shahid,

My genealogy blog has provided some neat experiences. I've found a number of cousins I wouldn't have normally found through the blog. By publishing the names of my ancestors and the villages they came from, I've made contact with relatives all over America and in Poland as well. One woman in Poznan, Poland, searched the Web for the name of the small village she came from, found it on my blog, realized that she knew my grandmother's late sister who had moved to the village after World War II, and contacted me with a note from that sister's daughters, my mother's first cousins, who the family had lost contact with some years ago. The blog makes fantastic search engine fodder.

? Ralph Brandi,

After reading ? and reading ? about weblogs for a number of months, I decided the best way to learn about this fascinating subset of the Internet was simply to start a blog myself. One of the first things I realized was how a handful of companies ? people, really ? had developed amazingly sophisticated yet simple tools to enable personal publishing for so many. The second thing I realized was that the blogging community truly is a community in all the best senses of the word. When I needed help, it was there. When I had questions, they were answered. Not to mention encouragement, virtual pats on the back, advice...and meaningful, challenging interaction.

Blogging also has helped me to rediscover my voice again, both personally and professionally. Putting yourself (your opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc.) out there every day will do that to you. And learning the technologies (CSS, template-driven web sites, RSS, XML, various APIs, third-party tool integration, etc.) couldn't have come at a more opportune time. I had been feeling ho-hum about most things Internet, but the world of weblogs has reinvigorated my sense of enthusiasm for the medium.

? Ed Murray,

Shortly after the Sept 11 attack in NY, I blogged about how angry I was with the "Islamic militants," and how I would give support to USA, regardless of its stand. And all of a sudden, my blog was invaded by Muslims who were angry with me for supporting the US. Such an experience was more of a chiller than neat. It made me realize that the Web is not as decentralized nor empty as it seemed. While I seldom let my online persona interfere with my person offline, the type of response I got from people who'd read my blog actually strengthened my support for the US, to the extent that I started wearing a US flag bandana and carried a bag similarly decorated to school. At the end of the day, I learnt that a certain extent of self-censorship is inevitable. Unless, your blog is like totally anonymous, it'd be wiser to practice some sort of self-censorship, especially when the blogging community in your state is small.

Blogging advice:

Don't tell your boyfriend/girlfriend about your blog, unless you keep absolutely nothing from each other. I've gotten into trouble countless times when my boyfriend reads about something "off-limit" in my blog, like the time I commented that I was picked to do a project with the cutest guy in class, he went off his rockers.

? Lyndy,

I consume, digest, and excrete information for a living. Whether I'm writing science fiction, editorials, columns, or tech books, whether I'm speaking from a podium or yammering down the phone at some poor reporter, my success depends on my ability to cite and connect disparate factoids at just the right moment.

As a committed infovore, I need to eat roughly six times my weight in information every day or my brain starts to starve and atrophy. I gather information from many sources: print, radio, television, conversation, the Web, RSS feeds, email, chance, and serendipity. I used to bookmark this stuff, but I just ended up with a million bookmarks that I never revisited and could never find anything in.

Theoretically, you can annotate your bookmarks, entering free-form reminders to yourself so that you can remember why you bookmarked this page or that one. I don't know about you, but I never actually got around to doing this ? it's one of those get-to-it-later eat-your-vegetables best-practice housekeeping tasks like defragging your hard drive or squeegeeing your windshield that you know you should do but never get around to.

Until I started blogging. Blogging gave my knowledge-grazing direction and reward. Writing a blog entry about a useful and/or interesting subject forces me to extract the salient features of the link into a two- or three-sentence elevator pitch to my readers, whose decision to follow a link is predicated on my ability to convey its interestingness to them. This exercise fixes the subjects in my head the same way that taking notes at a lecture does, putting them in reliable and easily-accessible mental registers.

Blogging also provides an incentive to keep blogging. As Boing Boing's hit-counter rises steadily, growing 10-30 percent every month, I get a continuous, low-grade stream of brain-rewards; rewards that are reinforced by admiring email, cross-links from other blogs that show up in my referrer logs, stories that I broke climbing the ranks on Daypop and Blogdex (and getting picked up by major news outlets). The more I blog, the more reward I generate. Strangers approach me at conferences and tell me how much they liked some particular entry; people whose sites I've pointed to send me grateful email thanking me for bringing their pet projects to the attention of so many people.

Blogging begets blogging. I blog because I'm in the business of locating and connecting interesting things. Operating a popular blog gives people an incentive to approach me with interesting things of their own devising or discovery, for inclusion on Boing Boing. The more I blog, the more of these things I get, as other infovores toss choice morsels over my transom. The feedback loop continues on Boing Boing's message boards, where experts and amateurs debate and discuss the stories I've posted, providing depth and context for free, fixing the most interesting aspects of the most interesting subjects even more prominently in my foremind.

The upshot is that operating Boing Boing has not only given me a central repository of all of the fruits of my labors in the information fields, but it also has increased the volume and quality of the yield. I know more, find more, and understand better than I ever have, all because of Boing Boing.

The nuggets I've mined are at my instant disposal. I can use Blogger's search interface to retrieve the stories I've posted with just a few keywords. While prepping a speech, writing a column, or working on a story, I will usually work with a browser window open to Blogger's Edit Your Blog screen, cursor tabbed into the search field. I flip back and forth between my browser and my editor, entering a few keywords and instantly retrieving the details of some salient point ? it's my personal knowledge management system, annotated and augmented by my readers.

Being deprived of my blog right now would be akin to suffering extensive brain-damage. Huge swaths of acquired knowledge would simply vanish. Just as my TiVo frees me from having to watch boring television by watching it for me, my blog frees me up from having to remember the minutae of my life, storing it for me in handy and contextual form.

? Cory Doctorow,

Check around to see if your city has a blogging community. Some cities have such communities and arrange happy hours or other fun events in the city. One example: (we rule!).

Since blogging, I've meet and shared a room with a fellow bloggette at SXSW [South by South-West]; got hooked on Googlewhacking, sent and received a gift from the Secret Santa Exchange; met the crowd at SXSW; gotten help on a personal level from a bloggette ? help that I otherwise might not have gotten if I had not met her; I edited a book because someone found me through my weblog; a fellow bloggette who works for a web design shop received an RFP with a chance to bid from a major drink distributor through her blog; shared pain with fellow bloggers after 9/11; and gotten to know many cool people who have made me laugh, cry, smile, freak out, or just celebrate life.

? Meryl K. Evans,

In March of 2000, my husband and I decided to divorce, after nearly 10 years (and one daughter) of being together. While the decision was relieving to me, it seemed to unleash this flood of intellectual activity that I'd held in during my marriage, issues I wasn't even aware existed until then. It seemed the time had come to get it all out so I could make some sense of what I was going through and start completely anew. I had always written in blank journals, but during my marriage I stopped. So, I figured since I wasn't going to be married anymore, I could start back up again. The only thing was, I wasn't entirely convinced I could write about anything that wasn't business-like or technically-useful in nature (I'm a technical writer by trade). I hadn't written anything personal in years ? I wasn't sure I ever could again.

So, to re-start my un-technical writing engine, I signed up for a free account on and began practicing, writing reviews of things I liked or found useful. It was great practice, and I got some cool feedback from the other members there and it gave me some hope that perhaps I could write my way out of a paper bag if necessary.

Shortly afterward, as I started getting more comfortable, I decided to use my existing web site ( for something other than an extended hard drive. In looking around for diary scripts, I happened upon Blogger and immediately signed up. Of course, I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to say and procrastinated for weeks before I wrote anything. I worried for days about the consequences of putting my personal thoughts online: what if a co-worker reads it? What if my ex-husband reads it? What if I get fired because of it? What if anyone reads it and gets the wrong idea about me? What if someone reads it, looks up my domain record, and stalks me? What are the risks to my daughter if I do this?

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I posted something to my site. It took me several hours and felt rather painful, but when I saw it published I felt strangely better. For the first year or so, I didn't post very often or regularly. After my divorce was final, however, my posts picked up in both frequency and intensity. I even started getting visitor feedback on my writing, which was at once gratifying and frightening.

When I started a blog, I didn't even know what it was or how it was "supposed" to be used. It just looked like an efficient way to keep a journal online, and I needed something that would challenge me to be truthful with myself about my life so far and where I wanted to go. Having it online seemed the natural thing to do since I was afraid the insulation of an offline journal (which no one else would ever see) would encourage me to avoid the issues I was looking to explore. Plus, I figured if you're going to be your own therapist and bare your soul in public, you may as well be as truthful as you can. Indeed, I had avoided so many issues, lied to myself so often throughout my marriage. I couldn't afford to any longer now that it was just me and my 2-year-old daughter. I needed the public space to force me to examine myself and my life, even when I didn't want to because of all the fear and guilt I carried.

Now that I've been keeping a blog for a couple years, I can't imagine not writing in it or not writing at all, period. Keeping a blog has helped me through a lot in my life ? most of which I wish had never happened ? as has the positive feedback. I've even made some new friends because of my blog, people I wouldn't have known if I kept all my thoughts in a book in my desk drawer. People who have expanded my awareness and made my roughest times much more bearable.

? Jenny,

While working for my previous employer, AGENCY.COM, we launched a weblog ( using Movable Type. We were all interested in weblogging and how it made publishing and communicating thoughts, insight, and knowledge easier. Interested in how far the tool and the concept could be taken, we endeavored to be a bit different. We wanted something that featured posts that were more refined and in-depth than the multiple short off the cuff posts that were common in the blogsphere. The site would also feature contribution from multiple authors as opposed to a single individual. I would guess that some would argue this approach isn't blogging at all. I even question it myself.

At the time we started, it was (I think) pretty unique in that it was run by a commercial entity who is paid for its thinking.

I think it was a success, but marginally so.

You're always a little bit better for trying something, even if it doesn't succeed as you have planned because you always have the knowledge of why it didn't work to avoid issues next time. Here is some of the wisdom I gained on weblogging that I can impart from my experience with this project:

Frequency of updates is important to effectively communicating through a weblog. In choosing to exclusively publish in-depth and, therefore, long-format entries, the communal dialogue of the medium is diminished as less attractive and less interesting. I liken this type of posting to a conference presentation rather then a birds-of-a-feather (BOF). Another effect of our focus on in-depth pieces is that the time and effort required to compose an entry put quite a burden on contributors particularly given other responsibilites. I personally found myself looking at a backlog of posts I wanted to do. Sometimes by the time I got around to finishing or even starting a post it wasn't relevant. In retrospect, I think brief and rapid posts in which our views would take shape and change over time would have been more effective.

A group weblog requires coordination and focus. When it came to topic matter the site had loose requirements. Being a diverse group of individuals from quite different backgrounds and different belief systems, the site seemed a bit scattershot and struggled to have an identity in my opinion. The freedom of one author with free reign to the weblog's content work because the personality and interests of that author are defined. Combining a group of personalities with a loose (or no) focus is a different matter. It becomes too difficult for one person to filter and follow along. Coupled with our low frequency of posts, no real personality or focus emerged.

Weblogging must come from personal motivation and passion ? not just another line item on a typically too long list of responsibilities. There were some less than inspired posts made because someone was getting poked and prodded to make one. Others simply didn't make any despite being prime candidates to participate. This is why I believe that while the concept of a knowledge weblog (or k-log) is a good and valid assertion, a mangerial dictate will not derive much value out of the effort to use use weblogs on knowledge or project management. The reality is they are unlikely to be successful anytime soon without a cultural shift that will take years to achieve at best. While the difficult situation of the company contributed to the loss of motivation, in retrospect, contributors should have been completely voluntary and given their own personal weblogs to operate.

The site got off to a good start when "soft launched" but slowly began to loose interest for the reasons I stated above. By the time it was officially (hard) launched (, it was struggling under its own weight and the pall of impending reductions and reorganization in the company tempered much of the enthusiasm.

I'm not discouraged at all in my first experience with participating in weblogging. I believe in it perhaps maybe even more so than before. In fact I'm setting up my own to continue publishing my thoughts and insights while I look for new employment. It's a great way to stay sharp. I've also found it to be a good way to get prospective employers to get a better sense of my abilities and knowledge of the space. Perhaps it will help me land a new job and that would be a really interesting story worth publishing. ;)

? Timothy Appnel,

Keeping a blog updated daily is taking on quite a bit. It sounds simple, just type out a few lines about your day, your thoughts of the day or what you found on the Web that day. Doesn't sound complicated. But it can be. I don't feel like writing every day. Some days I don't feel like even turning on the computer except for a quick game or nine. So, my blog quickly gets stale. Still, I haven't totally abandoned it.

A blog is fun too. You can do so much with them. You only have to please yourself really so design away. Add those fantasy graphics you wouldn't want to use on your personal site. Add that font you love even though no one else has it downloaded. Go wild, find a jungle cat skin background and make that the focus of your blog.

? ThatGrrl,

Some essential blogging tips:

In order to keep your blogs really fresh, invite a group of your friends/colleagues and give them blogging access. That way, you'll have several reporters blogging information, and you won't end up killing yourself, trying to keep your blog populated with good information.

If you use Blogger, upgrade to Blogger Pro. You can have your team post to the blog from email, create and syndicate your blog as an RSS feed, and a whole lot more!

Adding the ability to post comments on your blog extends interactivity and usefulness to the blog itself. Blogs are about community and information, and commenting is a real way to gauge your viewer's blogging efforts.

Blogging is one of the quickest ways to update your site. Syndicating others' blogs into your own site is another. There is a wealth of information out there ? tap into it!

? Eric E, Dolecki,

While I rode into the bloggiing community on the coattails of my son (, who was blogging before there were official blogs, I have come into my own among some major bloggers, and the process is keeping me sane. I retired from my job more than a year ago to care for my 86 year old mother (something I swore I would never do, but, well, connections are connections after all). Making that decision, however, disconnected me from the creatively and intellectually active life that I've always had. Blogging re-wired my personal connections and resurrected my identity as a writer and a catalyst for ideological exploration. It's not that blogging has enabled me to find my voice; as a published poet who used to also give reading, I've always had a very strong voice. Blogging has given my voice an even larger world to reach. While I'm tempted to say that it's unfortunate that I haven't encountered many other bloggers bear my age (62) with similar interests, the truth is that I am energized, excited, and inspired by the amazing young minds I continue to meld with. In a truly magical way, they have given me my dream: Cronedom. "Wise Woman" status. And I say that with only a partial "smirk." (I have done some "virtual rituals" that have been as much fun as the old 1960s happenings ? and ultimately more productive to boot.) Through the magic on the blognet, I've been able to tough the lives of people I never would have met otherwise, and in many ways, I know some of them better than I know people who have been in my "real" life for years. And at some point, when life frees me up to do so, I will go "on the road" and get a hug in person some of those bloggers whose virtual touches have transformed my unexpected and isolating situations into an extended family party. I am still on a quest for "older-wiser" bloggers. If you know of any, send them my way.

? Elaine Frankonis

I have met people because of my weblog, even I got my present job because of it! I try to use it as an "alternative communication media." I don't write every day. I usually write something about a subject I think will be interesting, maybe from the news, maybe one thought about life, and then let people comment about it or share different opinions and use the blog as a little "debate space." Them when the comments slow down, I write again, another subject, and the process starts again. Sometimes I also write about myself or a movie too.

? Javi Loureiro (Barcelona, Spain),

First, if you are using a blog because it's important to you (whether that's in a metaphysical sense or a business sense) you should make sure that you have more than one way to post. I'm a Blogger Pro member, but I also keep a bare-bones API site in my bookmarks ( times when I'm on the road with my PDA (which doesn't support the right IE functions) or when the Pro publishing engine is out of whack.

Second, realize that your blog doesn't have to be your whole site. In my case, I have the blog with my images "tucked away" so that someone visiting for the first time isn't immediately hit with a five minute wait.

Finally, remember that your blog should be about your voice and your thoughts. Many blogs seem to be more about "Me too" than "About me."

? Ewan Grantham,

I have been interested for some time in becoming more of a producer than a consumer: I want to give back in some way. I find mailing lists and newsgroups are OK for some interchanges and seach engines can help locate stuff, but sometimes it helps to find a site that gives the information you seek some context. You can find related informationat the fog density you feel comfortable , or ask the author a question.

So I have a place to collect my random musings and HOWTOs, and like a snowball, it gets larger and larger with each entry. A couple of hundred visits a day after just a couple of months makes me think some of this is useful. Rather than bother people with email, I can let them find stuff via Google and still feel like I'm being useful.

As for MT, a friend showed me his site and told me how easy it was to setup: took me less than an hour and it's been easy. Like all good tools, it lets you focus on what you're doing, not how to use the tool. I have done very little in terms of customization (Mena made all that unnecessary: thanks!), and it looks great.

? Paul Beard

Blog for fun. If it stops being fun, you're doing it wrong.

Don't worry about what everyone else does on their blog. Do what you want. It's your blog, it should reflect you.

Keep the front page down to 7 days or 50 KB, whichever is smaller.

Don't bother writing your own blogging tool unless you're in it for the long haul. After writing my own tool and using it for a few months, I still had a long list of features to implement. Instead of taking another month to implement all of them, I got then in about 15 minutes by installing Movable Type.

? Dan Hersam,

Since Movable Type lets you set up multiple blogs from the same installation, I set up a second one in a password protected part of my web site. Combined with the "Post to MT" bookmarklet, it's a very convenient way for me to record and organize personal bookmarks and notes as I'm surfing along on one of the 4 different computers I use daily. I can go back later to review and format the information for my public site.

? Laura Blalock,

Do not blog unless you are ready for your details to be unleashed to the world! Remember that your readers are other bloggers, who link, quote, forward, gossip, and more about every word you write it, generally but hours after you have published it yourself. Also, Google catches stuff for quite a while, so once it's published, it's difficult to get rid of.

Blogging enables you to easily publish and release your stream of consciousness thoughts, essentially giving you instant gratification. However, it is helpful for yourself and readers to start with a quote, bulletpoints that summarize your day, etc. This helps to ground them and also is a great way to make yourself think of what the net of it was. It is also cool to quote someone else, because it downgradesthe blog from being 100% self-absorbed to 90%.

? Joyce Guan,

Use a content managment system (Blogger, Movable Type, or the like) if you're new to blogging or web design. It will let you focus on quality content.

Layout is not THAT important. People read blogs to learn about the blogger, not to see their cool design skills (although they're definitely nice to see :)).

Don't make a post just because you haven't made one on a specific day. That's no way to develop quality content, and it's almost always obvious.

Blogging for yourself can be liberating ? use your blog as an online diary of your thoughts. Keep the URL secret if you want, but blogging is a great outlet for stress and other problems of the everyday world.

Don't be scared of blogging/bloggers. Jump in and have fun!

Don't worry about posting about every single thing that happens in your life. Strike a balance between enough detail to get the interesting things and too much detail to separate the good stuff from the bad.

? Greg Leffler,

When we talk about weblogs, we're talking about a way of organizing information, independent of its topic. What we write about does not define us as bloggers; it's how we write about it (frequently, ad nauseaum, peppered with links).

Weblogs simply provide the framework, as haiku imposes order on words. The structure of the documents we're creating enable us to build our social networks on top of it ? the distributed conversations, the blogrolling lists, and the friendships that begin online and are solidified over a "bloggers dinner" in the real world.

As bloggers, we're in the middle of, and enjoying, an evolution of communication. The traits of weblogs mentioned above will likely change and advance as our tools improve and our technology matures. What's important is that we've embraced a medium free of the physical limitations of pages, intrusions of editors, and delays of tedious publishing systems. As with free speech itself, what we say isn't as important as the system that enables us to say it.

? Meg Hourihan,