On a mailing list I’m on, a person recently spoke about the challenges she experiences writing and asked for ideas on books or classes to help her improve her writing. The following is the message I sent to the list, and it seems like a good blog post reflecting my views on how to be a good blogger.
I've always wanted to be a writer when I grow up, maybe a Great American Novelist or a Poet Laureate. After decades of struggling with my writing, I’m settling for being an Internet Raconteur. I do not know any good classes or books on how to write better, but I’ll toss out a few different thoughts.
First, read. Read anything and everything. I’ve been in discussions with other bloggers where it was asked who everyone’s blog mentor was. I typically respond E.B. White. His essays for the New Yorker and for Harper’s back in the 40s, are perhaps the best example I can find of good writing the way I think bloggers should write today. I also like to mix it up with Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Hunter S. Thompson.
Second, experience some deep emotional difficulty, or find some other experience that leads you to work with a good therapist to figure out who you really are, what makes you tick, and helps you learn to be more open an honest. Authenticity is a great virtue in writing and therapy is a great way to work towards it.
Third, read some more. Read philosophers and theorists. Find a framework to put your thoughts and feelings into. It can help organize your thoughts if you don’t let it become stifling.
Finally, write. Write as much as you can. Spend time reviewing and editing, but know that at some point, you need to let it go and simply post it online. Know that you’re going to write some really horrid stuff, but you’ll also write some gems. Balance being open and authentic with a strong enough defense to ignore criticism that stings and thwarts you, but still try to find nuggets of truth in the criticism.
@tap11 @tristanwalker @lynneluvah @liveintent @perkyjerky @ckieff @geekychic @motherhoodmag @MaryAnnHalford
Well, I’m back from the Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference. I’ll probably be tweeting a bit less today than I did during the conference. As I often do on Fridays after a conference, I like to write a brief Follow Friday blog post about tweeting from the conference. With Twitterfeed, it will end up as a tweet as well.
Let me start off by mentioning Tap11. They provide ‘Twitter Business Intelligence’. I took a look at their product at the conference and it looks really interesting. As I commented to @ckieff @motherhoodmag @ geekychic during cocktails, I would love to see Tap11 do a spotlight on their product at some future DPAC or Digiday conference. It would be interesting to see which speakers or panels get the most twitter traffic while they are speaking.
Some of this came out of a discussion about spotlight presentations. Several of the spotlight presentations came across a little bit too much as infomercials. They didn’t tell me anything new and excited that would get me engaged. Instead, I surfed the web during some of them, and I noted that Twitter traffic dropped off significantly during the least engaging spotlight sessions.
@tristanwalker from Foursquare was on one of the Local Content Creates Local Ad Sales Streams panel. That panel started off slowly, coming across as a little too much of an infomercial for the various speakers companies. Tristan brought a little bit of life to that panel.
@lynneluvah moderated the panel The Big Shift: Buying Content vs. Audience for Advertisers. This was a panel that had a lot of potential, but just didn’t live up to it, despite Lynne’s efforts.
To me, what makes conferences like this most interesting is what happens on Twitter during the conference. I had problems getting power during part of the day, so I wasn’t as involved in the twitter stream as I would normally be. It seems like future conferences might want to have power sponsors as well as wifi sponsors.
@liveintent was the wifi sponsor, as well as a provider of @perkyjerky, “The worlds first performance enhancing meat snack. Caffeinated Beef Jerky!” With my blood pressure, I figured I’d skip the perkyjerky. Caffeine and I just don’t get along well together.
I’ve met @ckieff and @geekychic at various other conferences and we tweet well together. It was fun to see both of them at DPAC. Joining in the serious conference tweeters were @motherhoodmag and @MaryAnnHalford. I met @motherhoodmag on the way to cocktails and we engaged in some traditional face to face conversation with @ckieff and @geekychic as we waited to get our drinks.
All in all there were some good conversations on Twitter and over cocktails at DPAC.
#pcct #cttu #googlehaven
Typically on Follow Fridays (#FF) I list people that I’ve been following. I try to tie them together into a theme; people I’ve met at some conference, people I know from some online group, and so on. This week, I’m doing things a little bit differently. I am focusing on hashtags.
For those who don’t know what hashtags are, they are tags frequently used in Twitter that begin with the hash mark to get them to standout. #ff, #swct, #getitdone, #doacracy, #pcct, #cttu, and #googlehaven are all examples of hashtags. The theme is focused on Social Web Week Connectict, #swct.
#swct is an event bigger than any of us, so my perspective on how it got started will be different from other people’s perspectives. It is also hard to say exactly when and where it really started. In my mind, it probably started at the New Haven Social Media Club in May. As we talked, I asked about how Social Media Club’s activities related to other social media activities in the state. I talked about the Tweet Crawls (#cttu) and the Podcamp (#pcct) plans.
When it was decided to have the ShareAThon in July, we talked about trying to have a Tweet Crawl in July in New Haven as well. It turns out that Suzi Craig was already in talks with Bun at Miya’s Sushi about having a Tweet Crawl in New Haven in July and I wrote:
Sounds like New Haven Social Media Week 2010 is starting to take shape. Will GoogleHaven, Ripple100, or other groups arrange events? I'll see if there is the possibility of a Drupal Meetup sometime that week in New Haven
A few days later there was ‘Twushi’, a gathering of Twitter aficionado’s at Miya’s Sushi. A few of us talked more about the idea of a Social Media week in New Haven. A few weeks later, the idea was discussed at a meeting of people in the Left to Right movement, #l2r, Andre Yap sent out an email inviting people to the swct Google Group, I set up a draft website, and things were well on their way.
Here is where the genealogist in me takes over as I look at some of the ancestors of this. Social Media Club started in 2006 in San Francisco and has grown to chapters around the world. At one point, I received an email about a Social Media Club meeting in New Haven. I sent out a message that I would be attending, and about half a dozen of us gathered at a New Haven Restaurant. It turns out that the person who had initially set it up had a conflict and couldn’t attend. She had sent out a message saying the meeting was cancelled, but several of us didn’t get the message and we had a good meeting nonetheless. It was there that I met Amy Desmarais, who at the time still had a day job, but was working to help get Ripple100 launched.
Another important ancestor of #swct is #googlehaven. Like #swct, #googlehaven has its own history, and my views will probably miss important aspects. I first heard about #googlehaven, the idea of bringing Google Fiber to New Haven from Jack Nork. I’m not sure how Jack and I originally connected. I believe it was via Twitter and we ended up deciding to meet in the Woodbridge Starbucks to talk about Twitter and other social media.
Google is looking for a testbed to launch their fiber network, and municipalities around the country have put together proposals. Jack, together with Andre Yap of Ripple100 and others have done a great job in promoting #googlehaven. #googlehaven developed a life of its own. At one of the #googlehaven meetings I noted that there were many municipalities trying to get Google to chose them and I wanted to know what would happen to all the great #googlehaven energy after the application was completed and after the decision was made. This idea resonated and has fed into the #swct effort providing great energy.
There is also the Tweet Crawls. I mentioned how Jack and I had met via Twitter and our talk at the Woodbridge Starbucks was, in many ways, a very small Tweetup. I’ve been to many Tweetups over the past years. Joe Cascio has done some great work in pulling Twitter Aficionados together. Later, Suzi Craig took this to a whole new level with monthly Tweet Crawls at different locations around Connecticut.
Some of the people involved in Tweet Crawls also attended Podcamp Western Mass 2. At discussions at the end of that Podcamp and at subsequent Tweet Crawls, the idea of having a Podcamp in Connecticut was discussed and slowly emerged into a core group of people trying to organize PodcampCT. The first PodcampCT is now scheduled to take place in New Haven in October. The Podcamp planning, which overlaps nicely with the TweetCrawlers has been brought in as part of Social Web Week.
At this point, I would like to dig back to the very early roots of Podcamp. Podcamp is a derivation of Barcamp, which was a response to Foocamp, and all of them are based on Open Space meetings dating back to Organizational Transformation meetings in the 1980s, about the same time that I first got on the Internet. As far as I know, the early OT meetings did not use the Internet, but Internet tools are very well suited to Open Space meetings.
In this aspect, there are key ideas about barcamps, podcamps and related camps. Everyone is a rockstar. Whoever shows up are the right people to show up. Whatever are gets discussed are the right topics to be discussed. This fits nicely with Social Web Week. Somewhere along the way, a fleeting idea of New Haven Social Media Week has evolved. I don’t know the details of the evolution and it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a great group of people have come together. They are people that #getitdone. They are connectors. They are people focused on a #doacracy approach to things. Organizational structure, meeting agendas and such only matter in so much as they help get things done, and if they get in the way of getting things done, they get passed over.
What will Social Web Week CT turn out to be like? It is hard to tell. It has evolved a lot since the discussions over sushi and it still has several weeks to continue to evolve. Whatever it finally ends up looking like, #swct, and related efforts like #cttu, #pcct, #googlehaven, and related efforts are well worth following this Friday and throughout the coming days.
When you write a blog post or an article for some online site, how aware are you of your intended audience? It seems to be the sort of question that would lead to a great discussion on the weekly #blogchats on Twitter, the sort of question that various readers of this blog who are struggling with their own blogs grapple with, and was recently explored a little bit in Are Page Views Meaningless? and Journalists Won’t Report on News Unless it Drives Pageviews.
Many people have many different reasons to write. There is the profit factor and the desire to be heard. The audiences vary considerably as well, depending on whether you are writing for friends and family, for a business, or as part of a news organization. Beneath all of this are the questions of how many readers do you have and how engaged are they.
For individuals writing for family and friends this becomes a fairly simple issue. Do your friends know about your blog? Do they find it interesting and come back? For political bloggers, there is a different question. Are you preaching to the choir? Most political blogs I read end up writing in such a way that people who already agree will read and agree and people who don’t agree will simply skip over it. This may be useful in strengthening the bonds amongst people of similar political viewpoints, which may result in additional action by these people, but does little to expand the dialog and find new friends, ideas, or coalitions.
Yet the biggest issue is for those who are seeking to monetize their writing, either through their blogs or by getting their articles read more frequently on the news sites they write for. The article about journalists being driven by page views quotes Sam Whitmore saying
if you want to write a story on an interesting but obscure topic, you had better feed the beast by writing a second story about the iPad or Facebook or something else that delivers page views and good SEO.
The article about page views questions whether writing for page views really makes sense. The author focuses on the effect tabbed browsing has on people’s reading habits. With billions of advertise impressions sold each month, more impressions coming, and more impressions selling at remnant prices or not being sold at all, trying to get a few more impressions may just be a losing strategy.
As advertisers become more savvy in targeting advertising, it is important to attract demographics that will be interested in your content and to get people to link to your content. Ads targeting attractive demographics sell for much higher prices than remnant ad prices. The best way to do this is not to simply write about whatever the hot topic du jour is. In doing so, you are following the pack, and you are more likely to get lost in the pack. Instead, write about your interests, your passions. Step out where there isn’t a pack. If you write something good and compelling, you’ll get followers and lead a new pack. This will make your ads much more valuable than ads of random people in the large packs.
Whether you are writing for profit or to be heard, you are more likely to be successful writing something special, something unique that will capture people’s interest than writing with the pack.
Pack journalism is nothing new. It was around before the Internet, and will probably be here for years to come. I do not believe that the Internet will result in journalism becoming more pack following. Yes, some people may follow Sam Whitmore’s advice, and managed to continue scraping by as journalists. Others will follow their dreams and passions and write interesting copy that improve their lives and the lives of others. Every writer needs to choose how they approach their intended audience.
I recently read an email on a mailing list asking about "different ways of measuring blog readership/audience for a broad range of specific blogs". There are lots of different ways of measuring blog readership and audience, depending on what you want to measure and what sort of access you can get to the statistics.
There are various sites that gather data about websites, and the first few that were mentioned on the mailing lists were Quantcast, Compete and Google's Adplanner. They have different means of gather data and as a result different levels of accuracy.
Quantcast uses a pixel to gather data for participating sites and makes estimates for everyone else. For large sites and for participating smaller sites, I've always really liked Quantcasts reports. If you take a look at the Quantcast report for Orient Lodge you can find a lot out about my readership. They also provide very up to date data.
Compete uses panels to gather data and do not seem to be quite as reliable as Quantcast. They use tracking code to gather audience profile information. However, they are pretty expensive to get to the interesting data. Here is the Compete site analytics for Orient Lodge.
I haven't played with Google Adplanner much, but they tap into data gather from Google Ads. If you authorize it, they supplement the data with Google Analytics data. They provide information about other sites that people visit. Here is the Google AdPlanner data for Orient Lodge. I hope to explore the affinity calculations in a later blog post.
What was not mentioned in the list was Alexa. They've always seemed a bit random and while some people claim they are getting better, many people don't trust their data.
If you can get more direct access to a sites traffic data, either through Google Analytics or server statistics, you can get much more interesting information. What percentage of the traffic bounces, or visits one page and leaves without visiting other pages? For those that do stick around, how long do they stick around? Where are the readers coming from? What are they using for browsers? How did they find the site? Direct links? From where? Keyword searches? What keywords?
This leads to the next question about what you are trying to measure anyway. I've often suggested that for my site, I'm not concerned with bounces. I want people to find what they are looking for on the first page they visit. If I were running an online store, I would be more concerned about bounces. I hope that people spend time reading and thinking about what I write, so for people that don't bounce, I hope to have a high time on site.
Related to this, people on the mailing list suggested that other metrics, such as the amount of engagement is what really matters. How often do people comment, link to the site, retweet messages about an article, save a page in a shared bookmarking service?
RSS feed subscriptions were also mentioned as well as Feedburner and their email option. Personally, I haven't used my RSS reader accounts in ages, although I'm still subscribed to hundreds of blogs. Messages on Facebook and Twitter get a much higher priority for me.
So, why are we concerned about these metrics anyway? The biggest issue is probably advertising. Much of the focus has been on getting an increase in page views or impressions, so you can sell more impressions. This has raised a concern about journalists trying to write article that will get the most impressions. However, not all impressions are created equal. Writing more esoteric articles may result in fewer impressions that reach a much more desirable advertising demographic. Journalists writing simply to get the most impressions may end up doing themselves a disservice as more and more advertising inventory goes unbought or sold at remnant prices while high quality impressions from specific audiences become more valuable.
There are a lot of different tools for measuring readership, and the best answer to which is best is that it depends on what you're trying to measure, why you're trying to measure and what sort of access to data you can get.