Re-Wind, Re-Do, Re-Start

200607181510.jpgDarren’s got a new group writing project going. Welcome Back, Dad!

This one’s on what you would do differently if you could start your blog over. Since I’m a bi-blogger (i.e. I have a personal blog and pro blogs) I’ll provide two sets of answers.

Pro Blogging

First off I’ll confess: I feel a little silly talking about starting over when I’ve been doing it less than six months. Though, I suppose that’s an entire generation of hardware, and more than twice the lifespan of the average blog. (I’m inferring from Dave Sifry’s 2006 State of the Blogosphere address, where he says 55% of blogs are still active after three months. Ergo 45% are not.) So, perhaps I’ve got something to say after all.

What would I have done differently? First, I’d have made more lists. I’d have thought about the type of posts I wanted to do up front and made long lists of topics within each type. Perhaps I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I’m just learning the value of this as a tool for remembering ideas and sparking new ones.

Second, I’d have doubled my estimates on how much time it would take. Goes back to the old adage: “The secret to happiness is to lower your expectations.” (I coined that back in high school. Since my 10 year reunion has come and gone, I feel justified using the adjective old.) If I anticipate having to spend a boatload of time but only wind up needing a dingies worth, then I will be pleasantly surprised by the extra time I have magically found. Much better than doing things the other way around.

Personal Blogging

Now I’m in my element since I’ve passed the three-year birthday earlier this month. (Damn! Forgot to celebrate.) This really does make me pretty old.

So, what would I do differently? Once I figured out that I would stick with it, I would have moved to my own domain name sooner. It was one of those scary things I didn’t understand but actually turned out to be pretty darn simple. That’s about it though. Everything else is a part of the learning process, so it’s hard to go back and short-circuit the loop.

Why Blog?

Blog Goals - ProBlogger.netDarren’s got another group writing project happening, and I’m just about to miss the deadline. (Thank heavens he let’s us use local time when determining “end of Thursday.”) This project is on Blog Goals. Well, I run a personal blog and a few professional blogs, and the two types have very different goals. Why don’t I talk about both.

Personal Blog

This is my personal blog. I started it almost three years ago after running into a few other Christian blogs, such as TallSkinnyKiwi, Jonny Baker, and even Darren’s own Living Room blog. So, why blog?

Thinking Out Loud

A blog is a place to think out loud. I’m a writer, and part of that means I process by writing. It helps me to organize, criticize and connect ideas that have been floating around in my head. I’ve kept journals off and one for a number of years, but a blog is just more me. I practically live on line anymore, and a blog gets at the next few goals in a way a journal never can. Blogging is talking to myself… without having everyone looking at me funny.

Community and Connections

When I started reading blogs, I found a resonance that made a difference to me. I found people who were asking the same sort of questions as me. I found people who were pursuing the same goals as me. So, I started blogging as a way to participate in that community and deepen those connections. Every now and then I get an email from someone who has stumbled onto Bald Man Blogging, and found their own encouragement and community. That’s just cool! Blogging is paying it forward.

Memory Bank

My memory has always been a bit scattered and haphazard. It’s good – infuriatingly good at times if you ask my wife – but a bit haphazard. I’d like to blame it all on the kids, but I can’t. So many times I stumble across something, like a quote or a poem, and I just wish I could remember it. Viola! Blogging is digital memory.

Ahead of the Parenting Curve

This one’s a fairly new development. You’ll notice that I’m out here with complete transparency. (No jokes about my pasty Irish skin, please.) My name, my picture, my kids, everything. Needless to say, this has been a point of… let’s say conversation, with my mother-in-law. (Hi, Joey!) She doesn’t like the fact that all this information is out here for the world to see. I chalk some of this up to a generational difference, but not all of it. Here’s my take: This is the 21st Century. Like it or not, life is on-line. Now I figure I can either run from it and be one of those parents on a talk show in 10 years crying about how I never knew what my kids were up to on the computer… or I can keep up and teach my kids how to surf safely. I can teach them how to connect with people around the world (On any given day I’m in contact with amazing people in 8-10 different timezones and 4 different continents.) while keeping an eye out for the creeps. Blogging is parenting in the 21st century.

Professional Blogs

Now for my professional blogs. This is a fairly new world for me. In fact, I’m just coming up on my three month anniversary. First, let me promote myself a bit: I write at the following:

These are my goals:

Augment Income

My name is Cory, and I have debt I’d like to get rid of a little faster if possible. One way is to reduce expenses. Check! The other is to increase income. Blogging is my debt reduction plan… and then hopefully my play-money plan.

Diversity Income

I love my day job. I work for a great company, and I don’t have a real desire to quit until I’m ready to quit for good. That said, there’s something to be said for diversifying one’s income stream. Kerri stays at home with the kids, so all our eggs are in one basket. Blogging is my disaster recovery plan.

Serve Readers

I have a genuine desire to benefit my readers. There are probably some pro-bloggers out there who are all about the Benjamins. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not me. I’d like a few Benjamins (or at least the odd Jackson), but I want to make a positive contribution in the lives of my readers. Even on my “fluff” blogs that cover television shows. I appreciate celebrity interest, but there are lines I won’t cross. It’ll probably cost me traffic… but I’m okay with that. Blogging is my way to serve.

5 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers

Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers - ProBlogger.net(Just wanted to say Howdy from those who have wandered thru from ProBlogger.net. Be sure to check out the full list of submissions.)

Darren at ProBlogger.net has a group writing project going this week. He’s asking readers to post their Habits to Highly Effective Blogging. I thought: Let’s give it a go. At first blush, I didn’t feel qualified. I’m new to this whole paid blogging thing. (Got my first paycheck this month, thank you very much!) Then I re-read the project title. “Effective” Ah, now that I can contribute to. Bald Man Blogging has, after all been around for nearly three years. (Not the domain; just the blog.)

Currently I’m juggling six blogs – including this one and one not-yet-launched. On five I am the only author. So, this spring has been a crash course in “effectiveness.” I’ve got to get the most bang for my blogging buck. (Did I mention I’ve still got the day job?) So here’s what I’ve learned about being an effective writer.

Develop a Routine

Is it just me, or is the web FULL of distractions? Email, IM, forum chit-chat, flash games, news, RSS feeds, etc. Distractions are everywhere. Many of those same distractions, however, provide ideas for posts. So, you can’t just cut them out. What you need is a routine that mixes in writing, reading, and playing. Here’s how I start each morning.

  • Look at stats. I like the pretty numbers, but more importantly I want to know what happened yesterday. Was there a sudden jump in traffic? Did a post hit the big time? Did I get a new inbound link?
  • Look at WordPress Dashboards. I moderate comments (Ah, the Spam Assault of 2006…) and again, check inbound links.
  • Look at the actual blogs. I like to make sure nothing exploded. This is also where I respond to comments.
  • Open three tabs in this order: b5media internal forums, gmail, Bloglines. I work thru each tab closing them as I go and opening new ones as I see fit, for example Bloglines items that I want to dig into. Closing those first three tabs are key for me. It I don’t, then I may never make it out of this loop. There’s always something new in one of them.
  • Work thru that new set of tabs, commenting or whatever, until I get to the last one. When I’m done with it…
  • Open the WP Dashboard for Blog #1. I’ll also open Bloglines in a new tab, because I maintain a Bloglines folder with resources. (This sometimes kills me, because I get distracted in unrelated feeds.) Now I write. Whatever I need to. One post or ten posts. I don’t set goals other than be up-to-date. I like to have a post go live every day. If things are flowing, then I may crank out half a dozen. If they aren’t, they I make sure I’m at least up-to-date.
  • Once I’m done with Blog #1, I start over with those three tabs from above: forums, gmail, Bloglines. (I have them set up in a bookmark folder called “Re-start.”) Work thru those, then tackle Blog #2. Generally, all six blogs have received attention by the end of the day.

Change Your Routine

This is about constantly learning and growing. I’ve just recently started working with the routine above, but sometime in the next couple months I’ll change it. At least a part of it. I’ll adjust something to see if it works better. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, great! I just go back to the old routine and have learned something for the future.

Read, Read, Read

The mind requires stimulation. I have a collection of 50 or so feeds of personal interest. Plus a couple dozen that are specifically to feed [pun intended] sundry blogs. I also keep track of all the b5media blogs. I’ve got the usual friends and familiar voices in Bloglines, but I also try to include several from outside my box. You never know where an idea might come from. Diversity breeds insight. Conflict creates change. And change is an opportunity to grow. In addition to Bloglines, I have a few books and magazines laying around the house.

Jot down Ideas… Now!

This one is fairly new for me. Too often I get a great idea, but it’s gone before I get around to doing anything about it. These ideas often come while doing “something else.” have to get the idea down before it flits out of my mind.

So, when an idea pops into my head, I try to drop whatever I’m doing, jump into the relevant WP Dashboard, and start a “holder” post. All I really want is a Title, something to remind me of the idea when I get back to that blog in the routine. I might jot down a couple quick notes as well, if the idea has some flesh on it. Save the post as a draft, then back to the routine. The goal is to save the idea with minimal interruption to the routine.

Do What You Can, Get Help with the Rest

Last but not least, ask for help. You don’t have to know it all. If fact, I think it’s better if you don’t even try. Know what you know. That is, get really good at whatever it is you can and want to do. Then, ask for help on the other stuff. You can’t master all things.

This site is a good example. I quickly realized that I didn’t know enough to do a design myself, and it would take me too long to learn. So, I asked for help. Now, I can do what I do, and say thanks for the help.

Bonus Benefit: Asking for help puts you in contact with other people. More contact = more ideas. More ideas = more potential posts.

Starting a Blog – Part 2: What’s a Blog?

OK, in part one I explained how the Internet works in five easy paragraphs. Now, we move onto blogs.

Part 2: What’s a Blog?

The short answer is “a type of website characterized by chronological entries appearring in descending order.” This is basically true, but if you’ve done much reading, you quickly discover that blogs are way more than 21st century diaries.

I prefer to think of a blog as a method or technique for managing website content. A website is nothing more than a bunch of interconnected pages located under a common domain name. Think of a book: Lots of pages all in the same binding. Websites, however, are way cooler than books, because there is so much more flexibility. You can only put the pages in a book in one order. A website can have multiple orders to it’s pages. Also, it’s easier to jump around out of order. Or follow a “footnote” to a completely different book/website! Add the abillity to include pictures, sound, video, frequent updates, interaction with readers, etc… like I said, way cooler than books. (And I love books.)

OK, back to topic: blogs.

I think of blogs more as methods for managing website content. True, most are still ordered around the whole chornological entry idea, but I’ve seen a few that are thinking outside the box. Essentially they are a bunch of webpages most of which are dynamic.

Now, there are three essential pieces. Each of these can be obtained individually or as a package (with some or all of the essentials.) Getting them individually adds flexibility (and complexity); getting them in a package does the opposite.

  1. Domain name – OK, technically they’re not essential. You could just remember the IP address, but unless you want to be instantly classified “uber-geek” and alienate all those who don’t know about the numbers, get a domain name!
  2. Server – This is the computer on which your website lives: the web pages, the database that stores the information used to create the dynamic content, the programs that process information requests from people who visit your website. When someone types your domain name into their browser, the IP address of your server is where they get directed.
  3. Blog Software – This is a program that gets installed on the server. It provides the framework for your website; a method to tweak the framework; and a method for you to add and manage content (text, images, video, etc.).

That’s it. With those three, you’ve got a blog.

Next time, I’ll talk specifics: Accessing the Essentials

Starting a Blog – Part 1: How the Internet Works

OK, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I’ve had one or two people (Hi, Lynn!) ask me about blogging. In particular, they’re interested in starting their own for one reason or another.

Rather than reply in a series of emails, I thought I’d post my notes here. Not only is it (hopefully) informative, but experiential as well. Learn about a blog… on a blog!

This won’t be a particularly technical overview, since I’m not a tech guy; but it should help you understand the pieces involved. I’m certain there are mistakes. (Feel free to post corrections in the comments, but please don’t get bogged down in details. I’m not teaching a computer science course; I’m trying to give what I think are the necessary details to get non-techies started.)

Also, it’s easy to get lost in jargon, so I’ll skip as much of it as possible. I can’t avoid it all, so I’ll put it in italics when necessary.

Part 1: How the Internet Works

Nice easy topic here, eh? Well here’s my take on it.

Every computer and website on the net has an address, called an IP address. This is a series of four numbers (e.g. 100.200.300.400) When you view a website, data is being transmitted between one address, the website’s, and another, your computer’s. It’s a lot like regular mail or a phone call: You send a postcard requesting a catalogue; the company mails you a catalogue. Same idea; different technology.

OK, but those numbers are ugly and hard to remember. They’re good for computers, but not for people. Well, someone really smart came up with a solution: Let’s map IP addresses to something more catchy, like words. So, instead of remembering 102.384.600.014 we only have to know www.somewebsite.com. Computers translate the words into an IP addrress and everyone’s happy. Those words are called a domain or domain name.

The web pages that get passed to your computer from the website is stored in special text files written in HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language). HTML files look like regular text documents plus tags, special descriptors wrapped in brackets that tell your browser what the text is. (I’ll get into HTML later. You don’t need to become an expert, but it’s very useful to understand the basics.) Some web pages are static: they are written once in complete form, and they don’t change very often. More and more, however, they are dynamic . Most of the information in the file doesn’t exist until you ask to see it. At that moment the server (the computer with files for the website you are viewing) does some programming magic and creates the the actual web page you wind up seeing.

If you ever want to see an HTML file, open a web page, and select View…Source (or similar) from the menu. You should get a text file with all kinds of extra stuff. If you sift thru it, however, you should be able to find just about all the words you read on the web page. (Sometimes the words are really a picture; that won’t show up, but a tag referring to the picture will be there.)

Finally, the browser. A browser is a program that communicates with websites primarily by requesting, reading and displaying HTML files. You probably use Internet Explorer from Microsoft, but there are several others out there: Netscape Navigator, Mozilla Firefox (my favorite), and Apple Safari (only available on the Mac OS) to name a few.

Next time: What’s a Blog?