Blog Entries

Blog entries, here and from elsewhere.

Being a Blogger in 2009

When I first set up Orient Lodge back in 2004, I wanted a central place where I could gather material I was writing for a couple years on various blogs and in other online discussions. I didn’t really think about what things would be like in five years and I am disinclined to make guesses about 2014. Yet things have changed a lot since those early days, and I received two messages that have caused me to stop and look a little more closely at the state of blogging in 2009.

These days, it is hard for me to keep up with all the email I get. A fair amount of it is from public relations firms hoping that I will write about the latest product they are pitching. Some requests are really good, some barely deserve the quick glance I give them before I delete them or file them away. Often, I reply, but do not receive a follow-up from the PR firm. Other times, I get fascinating replies that cause me to go to the library to do extensive research. I hope to have a few good blog posts up about some of these topics soon.

Getting press credentials back in 2004 to cover the U.S. Democratic Party National Convention in Boston gave me another insight into blogging. There are many events and conferences that seek good writers to attend and provide coverage, even if they are covering it in blogs. Since then, I’ve covered many political, technological, media, marketing, and even psychological events. I always go with trepidation. I am spending my own time and money to get to the events. While I have various ads on my blog, I do not work hard to monetize my site, and I certainly don’t get enough to cover the expenses of going to various conferences. Will going to a conference be worth the effort? When there are two concurrent conferences, which one will be the most interesting and which one will I be able to provide the most insights on?

Yesterday, I received an email from one conference organizer asking me to send her two or three writing samples related to the conference materials. I had several such articles available, which I quickly sent off, but it made me stop and think. Two years ago, I was invited to cover the same conference with no questions asked. Another conference that I covered in 2008 sent me a note that they no longer accepted bloggers or freelance journalists in 2009. This struck me as odd given that the number of full-time journalists covering their area of interest has decreased considerably during the same period. However, I subsequently found out that the attendance of that conference had declined precipitously since last year. Is the increased difficulty in getting press credentials as a blogger because there are more bloggers out there, or is it because the recession has very seriously hit the conference industry?

As to what to cover, yesterday was an interesting day. Kim asked me to attend the Informal Hearing on the Citizens’ Election Program. I was sure that not only would the traditional media be there, but some good representatives of the online media would be there. Sure enough, Christine from CTNewsJunkie was there. Christine is a great journalist who has covered the Capitol for a long time. Her writing is a good example of covering an event, and adding important background information to create a compelling narrative that helps readers understand the full context.

I had live tweeted the whole event, and aggregated those tweets into a CoverItLive stream. It was raw, blow-by-blow coverage, closer to stenography than reporting, but I was pleased to find that Christine linked to my coverage. Afterwards, we talked about how President Obama’s visit to Connecticut today was going to be covered by a pool reporter instead of allowing reporters from all the Connecticut news outlets in. I believe that this was a bad idea, and I subsequently found out that this has been reversed. I suspect that Christine will be covering the event, and as such, I don’t feel any particular need to go down and cover the event myself. Christine will provide the insights I am hoping to find, and I would probably not add a lot to the discussion.

I think this is an important thing for bloggers in 2009 to think about. These days it seems like everyone can blog. Are you, as a blogger, providing insights that people wouldn’t find elsewhere? If not, you might want to think about what you are writing and see if there are things that you care about, where insights like your own are not already being shared.

The other message that I received today was that someone has high jacked my advertisement. I use a 125x125 image of myself, flanked by red stripes and the words Orient Lodge across the top. I was told that someone was using this image to advertise their site on EntreCard, a site that has nothing to do with my blogging. As a general rule, I’m pretty laid back about allowing people to use my material. Typically, I invoke a Creative Commons license which allows people to copy my work if they provide proper attribution. Sometimes, I might also ask that the work be non-commercial or non-derivative, but I’m generally pretty willing to allow others fairly free use of my material.

However, the using of my 125x125 ad image to advertise an unrelated site is unacceptable. I did a whois lookup and found the owner of the domain that was using my advertisement. I sent a cease and desist email to this person and copied it to support at EntreCard. I encourage bloggers to be as flexible with licensing their material as possible. I want people to pick up my RSS feeds, my articles and to link back to my site. It is part of how I’ve grown my site to be as successful as it is. On the other hand, when someone does something that can cause confusion about my site and potentially decrease my traffic, I will, and how have, spoken up and defended my material. I encourage other bloggers to not only be flexible with the licensing of their material but also vigilant about material used inappropriately. This is another thing I just didn’t have to deal with five years ago.

Where will all of this lead in another five years? More and more, people are using audio, still pictures and video. I enjoy playing with this, but I really like the written word best. I hope my writing will continue to improve over the next five years, and that something unexpected, yet good will come of all of this. What do you think?

Blog Networking: EntreCard, Adgitize, CMF Ads and Beyond

There are many blogs out there, and many reasons that people write blogs. Some blogs are personal, some are news, some are commentary, and so on. There are many different reasons that people try to bring traffic to their blogs. It might be to earn money from advertising, to get more people exposed to ones viewpoints, or perhaps just another way to compete. The ways that people try to get traffic is also manifold and frequently changing.

EntreCard is one of the most notorious sites. It can drive a lot of traffic, but people question the quality of the traffic and even more significantly the ability of their management to run the site effectively.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, Typhoons, Tsunamis and Earthquakes

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, originally uploaded by Aldon.

I often start off my month with a blog post entitled Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. It harkens back to an old childhood belief that the incantation Rabbit, Rabbit, first thing on the first day of each month, in different forms depending on where you live, would bring good luck for the month. This month, I’m including pictures of three rabbits taken at a local agricultural fair. This is balanced out by reading blog posts from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and beyond about Typhoon Ondoy, the Tsunami, and earthquakes.

The Typhoon was brought home to me as I sit in my safe home in Connecticut looking out the window at the beautiful autumnal weather, as I read various Filipino blogs, many with pictures or video of the flooding and appeals for people to donate to help those in the hardest hit areas.

Then, it was Rachelle’s blog post, Tsunami in the Pacific... that really brought home the Tsunami. Rachelle describes herself as “the only filipino blogger in Saipan... a highly qualified elementary instructor, [and] a sweet and loving wife”. She starts off her blog post, “I panicked when a parent came in my classroom right after I let my students in my classroom 8am asking if he can pick his child because there is a Tsunami alert...” Saipan was spared, but American Samoa was not.

My cause for panic is much simpler. It is an overflowing incoming email box and a lot of catching up and writing to do after the conference I was at yesterday. So, for friends in the Philippines, Saipan, American Samoa, and the environs, I hope that October will bring good luck during the days after the Typhoon and the Tsunami. I hope it will bring good luck here as well as I look at the tasks ahead including several very interesting projects.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit.

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EntreCard Updates

Bloggers seeking traffic for their blogs need two things. The first is good content, and the second is to be findable. The first is just a matter of good writing. The second is more challenging. There are Search Engine Optimizations experts out there that will tell you all kinds of methods of getting incoming links, building your mailing list, getting people to subscribe to your RSS feed and so on. The bottom line is that you need to promote your site, and ideally do it where you are likely to find potential regular readers.

This is often done through link exchanges, traffic or click exchanges, and what I like to call blogger advertising networks. Many of these exchanges or networks have features from several categories and people will argue about whether a site is a link exchange, a click exchange, or an advertising network various levels of praise or derision.

One of the most notorious such networks is EntreCard. A large community has built up around EntreCard and it is amazing to see how they manage to continue in spite of repeated management snafus. One of the biggest was the way they mishandled the introduction of paid advertising. Many people complained, many people left, but still they muddled along. Then, they changed the payout for clicking on advertising sites. This resulted in more complaining, as well as more people leaving or cutting back their activities on EntreCard.

Now, they have announce that they are bringing back paid advertising in a different form and more sites are leaving. What is unfortunate is that the sites leaving tend to be the ones with the best content, such as Kitchen Retro, The Virtual Dime Museum, Symphony of Love and Politicus. This comes back to the key issue of any blogging: good content. Some of the sites producing the best content are leaving EntreCard, which makes EntreCard much less desirable a place to advertise or surf.

Confronting the Blank Page

Thursday evening. The digital display on the front of the dust covered cable box reads 9:11. The house is empty and quiet. Kim had to work late and Fiona, my youngest daughter, the only one that has not headed off to college yet, is out at a concert with a friend.

There are still thousands of unread emails in my inbox beckoning to me, but I have done enough on the computer today. I read emails, visited various blogs, wrote a few replies, comments on blogs and a post for my own blog. I also did a little programming for a project that is winding down with a frustrating denouement and did some investigating for some future projects and blog posts.

The hum of the computers adds to the empty feeling of the house. After I prepared my one person dinner; a steak I was supposed to eat with Kim last night, but worked too late to be home for dinner, along with some tomatoes from our weekly community supported agriculture delivery, I fled the house in search of something; something to foretell the next great adventure.

In less than two months, I will start on my next attempt at writing a novel. November is National Novel Writing month. I wrote a novel in 2007 which sits on my hard drive. 2008 saw false starts which ended up without a novel being completed. This year, I have my story in mind and the characters are fighting for recognition and definition.

One thing I did not like about my 2007 novel is that the characters were not as complicated as I would have liked. They did not grow or change as much as I wanted. I’ve been reading Irvin Yalom’s “Everyday gets a little closer”. It isn’t fiction. It is the recounting of a person in therapy with Dr. Yalom and provides lots of depth and growth of the main character.

A friend of mine is fighting leukemia. In a recent journal entry, she spoke about “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”. I checked online to find that it is not currently available at the public library. Yet I headed over there to see if a librarian might suggest a book somehow like that.

After a brief discussion, where we found most of the suggestions where also all checked out, the librarian suggested “The Reader” by Bernard Schlink. She mentioned that it was much better than the movie, which I hadn’t seen. Yet as I stood at the shelves, I decided to check out both, “The Reader” as well as “Flights of Love” by the same author.

I headed up to bed to quietly read while I waited for Kim and Fiona to get home. I was struck by the detailed descriptions in the beginning of “Flights of Love”. This is another area where I am weak in my writing and I’m thinking of trying to work on this as well.

I have been writing every day for my blog. I believe that the discipline has helped my writing, however, I still need to work extensively on describing setting and exploring the evolving characters in my stories. This is not something I really work on in my blog posts, but I may try doing more of that as writing exercises.

As I thought about this, my thoughts returned to Wednesday evening’s open house at my daughter’s school. Her teacher talked about how everyone claims to read with their children, but writing is also important and who talks about writing with their children? He will be sending home writing prompts for Fiona. I may get Fiona to put her writings in a blog. We’ll see. I wondered, should I write my own responses to the writing prompts? I don’t think that would be good. She needs to write her way and not have me writing about the same things. So, I will look for things to write about to expand my descriptive writing abilities.

The little display in the lower right hand corner of my laptop tells me it is now 9:40 as my wife walks in the door. The house is no longer empty the way it had been. I have confronted the blank page and written a long blog post. I will reread it and edit it in the morning.

Friday morning. I have completed my edits and will post the blog post. I pause to wonder about my audience. Many different people approach my blog from many different perspectives. What will they, what will you, get out of this blog post?

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