No Splogginess

It’s been quite awhile since I did anything here. Kind of a shame when there is so much emphasis on monetizing and splogging and it has become rare to find a really good personal blog.

Why have so many bloggers gone to splog? Is it just greed? Jealousy? The thought of missing out on easy money? Short sitedness?

Whatever it is the blog world has not changed for the better from it. Reading a website (usually using blog software) has become like watching TV. You can go out for a snack while you wait for the junk to load. Then you sit there and seek out the content out from under all the junk.

This blog (whatever becomes of it) will continue to be personal, purely without splogginess.

Packaging a Presentation

What’s in your package?

Do you have:

  • business cards
  • stationery
  • brochure
  • media kit
  • website
  • professional clothes
  • and
  • an office?

Plus, of course, your work itself. All organized in clips, articles, or the books themselves (depending on which medium you use).

Do you have a package?

Of course, we all have a package to present to the world. But, have you done much with yours? Have you put effort into making it professional and available?

You can have a home office. Something simple, organized and some kind of oasis where you keep clutter to a minimum and your writing time separate from your business time. Yes, you do need some time for the business of writing.

Business cards and stationery are part of an office set up. They don’t cost an entire arm and a leg. You know you can go for good paper stock and save bucks on less fruity fonts. Just keep it simple and very easy to read.

Business cards and stationery can be mini-brochures. Space is strictly limited (especially on cards) but you can give out the basics: name, address, website, email, phone number, a logo or illustration from something you have done, office/ contact hours, sales or prizes worth bragging about, your upcoming project, quote from a great review, professional degrees or memberships in professional organizations, the name of your business and the year you started. Eliminate some and add others depending on your niche and your special talents and ambitions. But, on the business card you really want to keep it to a minimum – it’s a card, not a book. Save your long winded guns for the brochure itself.

Of course the website is a brochure too.

Get FAQ’ed

Try this: Consider your website (or your computer if you don’t have a site) and put together a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page all about your site. Don’t forget a guide to how to use the site as well as the purpose for it being there. Study a few other FAQs to get ideas.

This is what I wrote as the new writing exercise for HerCorner. What do you think? Could you write a FAQ for your website? You should be able to. In theory at least, your site should have a theme, one main idea or purpose, right? So, it seems reasonable to expect a FAQ could be forthcoming.

Anyway, I like the idea. So tonight I am putting my fingers where my mouth is and I am creating a FAQ of my own for HerCorner. I might even do one for my personal site. But, I freely admit my personal site is not a great example of sticking with one idea.

So, getting down to the FAQ of it. What do you need to include in a FAQ? Likely you’ve read a few or skimmed them as I tend to do. Which is a good point, actually. Your FAQ should be skimmable when you get it into HTML. Do you know how to set up targets? Targets are those clickable points in the middle of a page. You can read a table of contents and find a clickable link to that exact section of the large body of content. If I sound like I’m gabbling send me an email and I will hunt out a link to demonstrate this target idea for you. Most FAQ’s will use this, if you check for examples on your own.

Now, the meat of the matter. What does a FAQ need to include? I think the first thing is a statement of purpose. Someone reading this sentence (or short paragraph) should be able to understand what your site is about. But, this is a time to keep it simple. Just the basics. If it appeals to them they can dig into your FAQ for the details and specifics.

Next, explain the parts. Think basic and plan out what you really need people to know. Put it all into logical order, sort of a learn as you go thing. Read it back, try to think like someone who doesn’t already know the answers. Did you miss anything?

Do your best, ask for feedback at the end and don’t try to be some computer melded brain. It’s almost certain you will leave something out that someone else will pick up on later. You are not the world’s most perfect writer, you’re just someone trying to be creative and share their FAQ with the world.

Now go get FAQ’ed!

Freely Contributed Content

I used to run a website for writers: HerCorner. The site included articles about writing, in fact those were the main content. So, I read a lot of what other people are writing about writing. Well, ok, I skim it. Anyway, most of the contributed content (free to reprint in ezines and newsletters) is full of the same thing over and over and over again: web promotion and selling.

I think it’s great that people are writing articles and then contributing them to sites like mine in exchange for their own promotion, it’s self syndication. It seems like such a great win – win situation. I just love those.

But, it’s not working as well as it could be. Unless you can find a source for articles geared to the content you are looking for (writing, space travel, parenting, etc) you will end up wading through endless articles and only find one which you really, strongly feel you want to use. It’s not that the articles are not well written, they just cover the same old stuff all too well.

Most of the articles I come across (on several email lists for contributing content) are geared to web promotion/ selling. I don’t think many of the people looking for content are looking for that kind of content. There are so many sites covering that and each of them seem to write their own articles as a way of promoting themselves as an authority on the subject.

The original writer of the article isn’t creating anything unique that could be used by most of the ezines and sites out here. I bet a lot of writers decide this form of promotion isn’t workable. But, it is, if they would just look at the ezines out here. There are so many different topics covered with endless angles and styles. Look around, find a topic you really have an interest in or want to become known for writing about.

In a perfect world this self syndication would be one of the best things about the Internet for a writer. Until then, we just have to work with what we have or write our own content. Which I do.

However, I really like publishing another writer’s work. Mainly because this way it’s not just me talking. My readers get another point of view and my site looks healthier. A site with just one writer does lose something. To grow, a site manager needs to keep exploring, developing, creating and searching for fresh content and points of view. It really helps if you can find an article someone else wrote to reprint on your site.

So, that is my point in all this: writers looking for that self promotion/ syndication from contributing content need to work outside of the box. Find out what web publishers are really looking for. Take a chance and try something new, something uniquely you!

Backing Up

Typing on a borrowed computer, no spellcheck or word count, no thesaurus and no saved files for updating the newsletter. Worst of all, the space bar is temperamental. I miss my computer but I will have it back soon. Just trying to sort out the car and job stuff.

How addicted are you to your computer and the information you have stored in it? Could you go without for a day, two days, a week? What would you miss most? Which are the really important files that you can’t do without? What about other things like that desktop wallpaper you saved from that really neat website?

All kind of things you rely on your computer for. So, wouldn’t this be a good time to back it up. At least make copies of information you don’t have a back up for. What are you doing tonight that you couldn’t put off to take the time to back up your files? Won’t you wish you had when it’s too late?

Get a CD burner (if you can) and back up your important files and data once a month. You can use a rewrite able CD and just copy over the same files each month. Even the regular CD’s are not very expensive. Whichever way you do it, back up your files on a regular basis. You never know when you will be without your computer: whether it’s permanent or just while traveling or having repairs done, etc.

This message brought to you by the Society for Missing All Data, SMAD for short.

Guardian Unlimited: Websites that Changed the World

An article about the mega sites.

1. eBay.com
Founded: Pierre Omidyar, 1995, US
What is it? Auction and shopping site

2. wikipedia.com
Founded: Jimmy Wales, 2001, US
What is it? Online encyclopaedia

3. napster.com
Founded: Shawn Fanning, 1999, US
What is it? File sharing site

4. youtube.com
Founded: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, 2005, US
What is it? Video sharing site

5. blogger.com
Founded: Evan Williams, 1999, US
What is it? Weblog publishing system

6. friendsreunited.com
Founded: Steve and Julie Pankhurst, 1999, UK
What is it? School reunion site

7. drudgereport.com
Founded: Matt Drudge, 1994, US
What is it? News site

8. myspace.com
Founded: Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe, 2003, US
What is it? Social networking site

9. amazon.com
Founded: Jeff Bezos, 1994, US
What is it? Online retailer, primarily of books, CDs and DVDs

10. slashdot.org
Founded: Rob Malda, 1997, US
What is it? Technology news website and internet forum

11. salon.com
Founded: David Talbot, 1995, US
What is it? Online magazine and media company.

12. craigslist.org
Founded: Craig Newmark, 1995, US
What is it? A centralised network of online urban communities, featuring free classified advertisements and forums.

13. google.com
Founded: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, 1998, US
What is it? Search engine and media corporation

14. yahoo.com
Founded: David Filo and JerryYang, 1994, US
What is it? Internet portal and media corporation

15. easyjet.com
Founded: Stelios
What is it?: Budget airline

So many sites are not here. Whether they were bought out or busted or just didn’t grow enough, there must be a million other sites which had good ideas that didn’t take off. I worked for several pioneer sites which are no longer around. I still volunteer at Dmoz (The Open Directory Project) which has been owned by Netscape and AOL and used by Google and assorted other big and small search engines and web directories. Yet, Dmoz didn’t make this list. It’s too far into the background I would guess. There, but unknown.

I sometimes still write for BackWash which had the concept of presenting the “Internet by personality”. I thought that idea had potential. It did really if you consider the popularity of weblogs. However, the site didn’t grow enough, not enough push to become known so it could rise above the pack. So now it is still there, kind of dwindling, but there like a dinosaur lurking, not ready to give up and yet not having the energy to push itself out into the world any more.

I worked for HerPlanet which was a network of sites for women. That one died off, sort of mysteriously. After years of sticking it out and beginning to build traffic and a following of readers the money supply just ran out. Dottie found a buyer who let her continue to run things, more or less. The new buyer killed HerPlanet. They just never did anything to get the sites back up and online. A year or so later (long after I knew HerPlanet was dead) the domains all became 404, one by one. It was sad. Now and then I check to see if anyone else has begun a site for those domains: HerPlanet.com or HerCorner.com (which was the site I managed) and so on.

What sites do you think could have or should be on this list of world changing sites?

Blog for Fame

Want to be famous and trendy on the Internet? Join the personal publishing era – get blogging.

Weblogs are part scrapbook, part magazine, part journal, part soapbox, part obligation and part fantasy. Anything that can be typed on a computer keyboard or made into a digital file (images, sounds and scanned items) can be part of a weblog. People (bloggers) with a scanner or digital camera can include pictures of themselves and the objects they write about. Links to other websites are what really make a weblog a digital twist to the old fashioned scrapbook. The best weblogs are those with well-written journal content, interesting links and an eye catching design.

However, don’t get the idea that weblogs (blogs) are just another personal home page. News and commercial sites use them too. Blogging software makes updating simple and quick. Just open the program, add your content and click. Automatically the software puts your entry into HTML, sets up the navigation (layout, date, etc.), and publishes it to your website.

Some blog software will have more features. Movable Type is very popular but not simple to install. Blogger.com is simple but (has been) unreliable due to high use. As a new blogger, you need something easy to use with dependable technical support. Almost all blog software is free for personal use.

There is a group online called GTA Bloggers, for people with weblogs in the Toronto area. Join the email list or read the website if you need help, inspiration, ideas or just want to chat with other bloggers. I also found a webring for Ontario bloggers. Take a look online for blogging groups in your own area.

Navigation, Style and Content

What are the keys to a good website? I think there are 3 main things. I have created this list from many years (since 1998) spent reviewing websites.

Navigation, style and content. You can adapt that to NSC, or not. Not works for me, I’m not even sure how to say that.

Anyway, navigation is probably the most under rated website building thing. But, if people can’t find your content… what’s the point? Navigation needs to be simple, easy to use and easy to find. Some people hide navigation in graphics. Some of them hide it in text. Have you ever seen a site where you click on your browser type to enter it? There is nothing there to say “hey! this is how you enter my site!” Unless it’s a site for psychics, it’s not very useful and it’s a navigational flop. Not to mention pretty annoying for someone who spends time trying to find access to the site and gives up eventually.

I put content ahead of style because content is what people actually came to your site for. It wasn’t a demonstration of frames, flash or pop up ads. Hope that didn’t come as a shock to anyone. Content should be spelled right, proofread for typos and at least a little fact checking is a good idea. It’s also a good idea to change your content now and then. Ideally you should update your site as often as you want people to come in and visit it. If you want daily visits a blog is a good way to go. But, blog everyday with something at least a little unique and interesting. Focus is a good thing too. Being too diversified makes it hard for readers to know your voice and understand what you believe in, who you are. People like to see pictures of the people they read because they want to know who is behind the words.

Last, style, it’s kind of the buffer between your content and navigation. It’s what makes your site colourful, unique and gives it an attitude that people can see even before they start reading your content. But, style should not take over your site. After all, you want them to read your words too. Things like flash or a ton of graphics will drown you out. Also, people are not likely to wait for an unknown site to load. Especially when it’s just a bunch of graphics, not what they came for.

So, off you go. Put up your brilliant websites, make the rest of us green with envy. That, or you know we’ll be there to borrow your best ideas and adapt them for our own sites. Did I just type that… ignore that woman behind the curtain she knows way too many of my secrets.

Free Content

I’ve used contributed and/ or free content before. But, it brings it’s own set of difficulties. Before you jump into this, thinking how much easier your life will be consider the following:

1) Unless you want content geared to website promotion, you may be out of luck. The main topic of free content is about site promotion, one way or another. This is changing, slowly. As you find articles to use the well will run dry. Eventually you may find you are spending more time looking for fresh content than it would have taken to write it yourself. If you do find a good writer this way, keep in contact and ask if they have other articles you could use.

2) People who post to free content sites don’t always read the rules. I’ve had authors demand I stop using their content. Some claimed it had expiry dates, some claimed the full article was never meant to be used, just a teaser with a link back to their own site. One expected me to change the format of my pages to suit her article. Before you use a free content site, read the rules, be aware of them. Before using any free content send an email to the writer. Give them an outline of how the content will be used, keep it short and simple.

3) Formatting is hell. Do I need to elaborate? If you have ever cut and pasted a large body of text to a site you are familiar with the backspace and up and down keys on your keyboard. The most aggravating part of using content which you cut and paste from another site is making it fit into your own site’s layout. Yes, this is a small thing but over time it is seriously aggravating. Ask if all contributed content can be sent to you in plain text files. You can at least hope.

4) Grammar, punctuation and spelling. I’m not a dictionary myself but I try to learn from my mistakes, I proofread and I run spellcheck. I don’t understand why everyone who writes can’t do the same. But, you may find yourself editing a lot of contributed content.

I’m not against using free or contributed content but it’s not the perfect answer to filling up your zine with greatness. On the plus side, you won’t be the only one talking. It is good to have more than your own voice, ideas and experiences. It’s great to have something you can rely on when you’re pressed for time, out of ideas or just don’t want to write. Making contacts and networking is another plus. But, it’s not all free and easy. Be aware of the pitfalls.