The Personal Blog

Fred Wilson on the personal blog:

There is something about the personal blog, yourname.com, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

This Blog

I have a confession.

Sometimes when I find a new blog I like, or even an old favorite, I like to read the first post. The very first post. Nothing points to the truth of something quicker than its beginning.

I say all that to say that this blog never had a proper beginning. It just starts with a post about digital storytelling resources. It doesn’t give you any clues, lay any groundwork or provide any humor or suspense. You have no idea where I’m headed or what might make me get up in the morning.  Shameful, really.

So I’d like to give you a few of those in this post. Here’s goes…

The trouble with starting something is that it’s usually a good idea to know what direction you want to go in when you begin. Not necessarily where you’re going, but a direction. I had no idea when I started this blog in 2009. I have a better sense now, of course, but I won’t say that these things will never change or evolve.

From Stories to the Story of Me

I use to write stories every day as a reporter. Telling a person’s story was a privilege. One that I never took lightly. I think that’s part of what made me so bad at telling my own. I always felt uncomfortable writing about things I knew, learned or did. And I put this pressure on myself that it all had to be worth reading by even the harshest of critics. I struggled to put into words that in 2009, I was a bit lost – my story was a rough draft.

I came out of grad school at Elon, starting this blog as a class assignment (you’ll still find some assignments here). Did I want to stay in the content realm, do design or dive into development? I didn’t know and my blog content reflected that. Now, I’m a front end web developer with a passion for accessibility who thinks writing code is a lot like writing stories. I’m a new dad, a CrossFitter and addicted video gamer. And yes, I still like to write.

So where does that leave us? Me, the writer and you, the reader?

I’m getting better at telling my own story. I’ve nuked a lot of blogs over the years in doing so. Writing is a process, as they say. I feel more comfortable hearing my own words and not just my words setting the scene for someone else. I’ve realized lately that if I read this blog 30 years from now, I’d want to get a complete sense of who I am. Not just what I did at work or in the open source arena. These are my words and it’s also a privilege to publish them so I put as much of the story on the page as I can.

I’m going to post on more of a variety of subjects, from professional to personal, but only if they add value. We’ll see how it goes, but I know one thing. This is only the beginning.

Blogs Still Matter – When It’s You

I wanted to write professionally since I was 12. I’m glad I did that. Now I write code, and see a lot of similarities between the two. Writers and coders create tremendous value when they craft stories through their work.

That fuels my interest in the evolution of the news industry, blogging and creating on the web. We’re approaching a pivotal time on the web as social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr become media giants while new blogging platforms continue to pop up. Social media may open publishing to the masses, but the companies that run them sometimes send users scrambling when those companies get bought out or shut down.

That interrupts the stories people create on these services. It’s difficult to keep anything going long term, but even harder when the platform you’ve selected changes dramatically in different ways, whether it’s ownership, features or discontinuation. When this news breaks, we tend to focus on the platform, the publishing experience or the economics, but those don’t really matter. The words and content matter more. Just create.

Blogs (or whatever they get called in the future) still matter because they give people their own platform for creation. The platform doesn’t matter as much when it’s you, and not a service that has your content locked down.

What does that mean? It means:

  • you publish on your own domain.
  • you freely control your content (you can export, import, use other technologies in an interoperable way).
  • you’re not attached to specific features of a platform.
  • you focus on creation, not the way you create.

Yahoo bought Tumblr, not for the technology, but the content and audience. Of course, the brand, domain and people who created it matter too. It will be interesting to watch and see if David Karp can keep Tumblr’s original vision in tact as he moves forward with Yahoo. We haven’t figured out the perfect mix of proprietary and open source, independent versus funded yet, or even if there is one, but the evolution is happening. Will Tumblr let its users continue to be themselves? We’ll see.

There’s no shortage of new blogging platforms, like Ghost and Jekyll, or ones that offer a new take on extinct platforms, like Posthaven. They’ll keep coming. But it doesn’t matter if you can post from email, reblog, see all those animated GIFs in a dashboard or “Like” a post. Just tell us your story.

Just create, keep what you create close to your heart and publish it on something that empowers you and gives you control.

Blog Categories and Tags: How To and What For

Compass

When people new to blogging start using categories and tags, it often turns into a everything for everyone type of situation. Beginning bloggers create a category for everything, and sometimes a conflicting tag to match. The end result is a blog that has a poor user experience, no clear way to navigate between posts and limited ways to grow.

You need to think of categories and tags as a way for your readers/users to navigate your site.

What’s are the best practices for this?

Categories

  1. Go broad. If you write about recipes on your blog, maybe you have Asian, Cajun, American, etc. as your categories. Think about this as a menu. It provides users a way to dig deeper into your content, your expertise.
  2. Stick with it. It’s tempting to change your categories, and certainly you’ll need to make adjustments now and then, but try to keep most of the original structure in tact. It will help focus your blog more than anything.
  3. Set Limits. Create a category structure that has a total of five, plus or minus two – a common best practice when it comes to menu structures and information architecture.

Tags

  1. Make it fit. Use your tags as a way to lead users even deeper into your categories and site. If we stick with the recipes example from above, your tags might be ingredients of dishes, pairing nicely with the types of cuisine that represent each category.
  2. Limitless. Well, almost. I try to build rich, deep tagging systems by adding one to three tags to each post. Always use tags multiple times as you write new posts, so you don’t have a ton of orphaned tags.
  3. Adjust when necessary. With tags, unlike categories, I’m never afraid of tweaking the tag names, connections and the like.

How do you manage your categories and tags? What works best for you?

Image courtesy of Ambrozjo.

Dead Blogs, Blogging and Getting Better

Blog on Sticky Note

Most techies have blogged much longer than I have. I didn’t start until early 2009, on a blog called Trust the Process Now, and I killed that blog a long time ago. Being a former journalist, I had the wrong view of blogging. I thought it would take away from my writing juice on my day job as a reporter, and I couldn’t imagine having enough to say.

I was wrong. I wish I would have started blogging earlier in my career. But since that first blog, I’ve experimented to find the right mix between blogging, social media and providing value to readers and the web. I think I found it. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

The Current Blogging Lineup

  • davidakennedy.com and (e)INTERtain: Since January 2010, this has served as my main online home and blog. I also post about projects I’ve worked on.
  • davidakennedy.net: I started the current iteration of this blog in September 2011, turning it into a life and hobbies blog.

Many of the posts that populate (e)INTERtain come from a blog I started in grad school at Elon located at davidakennedy.wordpress.com. DavidAKennedy.net has gone through a few versions. It started as a learning journal, powered by Posterous, then a hobby blog powered by Tumblr before its current form – a combination of the two on WordPress.com.

Retired Blogs and Domains

  • journalismlives.com (still active): Steve Earley (my co-blogger) and I haven’t blogged here in awhile, but we’re not ready to abandon this project yet.
  • trusttheprocessnow.com (no longer own domain): My first blog, I wrote a lot about my philosophies in life, a la zen habits.
  • davidakennedy.wordpress.com (deleted): A WordPress.com powered blog that I used as a learning tool in grad school. I imported many of the best posts to my current blog.
  • gutcheckrunning.com (no longer own domain): I created this blog as a running journal, but when I didn’t keep a consistent running schedule, I killed it.
  • trusttheprocess.net (no longer own domain): This was a short-lived photo blog on Posterous. When I learned more about custom post types, I created my own section for photos on my self-hosted WordPress install.
  • davidakennedy.net (on Tumblr): The site WRPG started on Tumblr and I had fun with it, but ultimately I liked how WordPress.com gave me better flexibility over exporting content and more features. I do miss Tumblr’s better mobile blogging features. I also went with WordPress.com so I would fiddle less with the inner-workings of the site and theme, something I do too much, taking time away from blogging.

Five Things I’ve Learned While Killing Five Blogs

I hate leaving blogs and domains behind, but I also believe in trying new things, experimenting and working hard to create value for readers and the web in general.

  1. Try platforms, but build on your writing. A platform, no matter how new and advanced its features are, or how vibrant its community is or becomes, you writing must be the focus.
  2. Start with your passions. They fuel your blogging better than anything.
  3. Don’t worry, just blog.
  4. Say something worth saying.
  5. Create value in some way, shape or form.

This post was inspired by Om Malik’s My 10 years of blogging: Reflections, Lessons & Some Stats Too.

I haven’t blogged as long as some of the pros, but I learning, moving forward… What about you? How have your blogs evolved over time, and what have you learned?

Image by jaylopez.

WordPress vs. Tumblr vs. Posterous

Anyone can launch a blog these days. Services like WordPress, Tumblr and Posterous make it easy.

The hard part comes when you have to decide which service to use. They’re all similar but different, and have strengths and weaknesses. So how do you decide? It’s tough, but should always come down to your individual needs. I’ve compared Tumblr and Posterous before (one of my most popular posts), and thought it would be fun to compare all three blogging platforms. An important note: in this comparision, I’ll focus on WordPress.com, not the open source, downloadable software.

Basic Information

  • WordPress.com: Run by Automattic, WordPress is one of the oldest, and most respected blogging platforms around.
  • Tumblr.com: Run by Tumblr, Inc., Tumblr is a rising micro-blogging platform that’s popular among creatives and blogging newbies.
  • Posterous.com: Posterous, Inc., Posterous, often mentioned in the same articles as Tumblr, made its name thanks to friendly email features and new group site options.

Wordpress Logo

Positives: WordPress

  • Data portability: One of WordPress’ strengths – you can import and export from a variety of formats with ease. You never have to worry about the question: “How can I get my content out?”
  • Lots of themes: The thing I love the most about WordPress is the variety of themes available, including new premium ones.
  • Flexibility for future growth: The software that powers any blog you begin on WordPress.com is the same software you can download at WordPress.org. That means that if your site grows beyond the needs of a blog, requires advanced functionality that doesn’t exist in WordPress.com or you just want more control – it’s all a download away, with the same user experience.

Negatives: WordPress

  • Can the blogging giant keep up? With Tumblr and Posterous focusing on micro-blogging, mobile blogging, privacy and Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter and Diaspora innovating in big ways, can a a “traditional” blogging platform like WordPress keep up with endless changes?
  • Mobile app: The mobile app for WordPress (I’ve used the Android one) isn’t as strong or as integrated with core functionality as both Tumblr and Posterous’ apps.
  • Upgrades cost money: Many, not all, but many of the features and functionality that you’d find for free on Tumblr and Posterous cost money on WordPress.com. These include: your own domain, custom CSS, no ads, etc. If cost is a factor, this may be a deal-breaker.

Tumblr Logo

Positives: Tumblr

  • Strong niche communities: While WordPress and Posterous have vibrant communities, Tumblr has great niche communities for fashionistas, creatives, journalists and more.
  • Quick and easy: While WordPress has built a name around its simple user interface, I’ve heard many say that Tumblr’s approach (with fewer options, quick micro-blogging features and built-in social network) has won them over.
  • The up and comer: Over the past year, Tumblr has risen to stardom amongst the tech/social media start-ups. It may be able to ride the momentum on to more innovation.

Negatives: Tumblr

  • Not for everybody: Even though Tumblr, WordPress.com and Posterous share many of the same features, Tumblr has the stronger social network feel. Some might see it as just another social network, and wonder why they need another one, of if they have the time.
  • No way to export content: Tumblr offers no way to export your content, which could force users to lose content if they decide to leave Tumblr.
  • Specialized content: As mentioned in the first point, Tumblr is a social network and creative, multimedia-friendly, short bursts of content performs well there. This certainly can be seen as a positive, but it might not be for everyone.

Posterous Logo

Positives: Posterous

  • Reinvented: Posterous became Posterous Spaces recently, turning the super-easy blogging platform into more of a social network, built for sharing content publicly or privately with flexibility over appearance and other features. Much of this can be accomplished using the other platforms, but Posterous has aimed for this to be its niche.
  • Group blogging/sites: I’ve used Posterous to some success as a group blog with Journalism Lives. It’s been fun, and Posterous as a platform excels at this.
  • Mobile publishing: All three platforms have strong mobile apps, but Posterous’ latest version ties into its new features well, priming it to be the perfect place to share content on the go.

Negatives: Posterous

  • Weaker Community: Posterous does not have as strong of a community as Tumblr or WordPress. It’s newer so that may change.
  • No way to export content: Posterous, like Tumblr, offers no way to export your content. Again, this should be seen by platforms as a basic feature to offer users ultimate flexibility.
  • Very much like Google Plus: The one thing that I noticed when I first checked out Posterous Spaces was how similar it was to Google Plus in overall goals… It will be interesting to see how Posterous and the two other platforms distinguish themselves among all of the competition in the social media space.

Final Thoughts

This was a fun post to write. Honestly, I had trouble coming up with three negatives for all of these platforms. They all have similarities, so ultimately it comes down to YOU. I’ve mentioned this before in my other post, comparing Tumblr and Posterous. You’ll get the most out of a platform if you’re comfortable with it and like/love using it. It’s why I ultimately started a new, fun blog on WordPress.com after trying with both Posterous and Tumblr to do the same thing. For me, the deciding factor was WordPress embracing the open source mentality. I always know that I will always have control of my data.

For you, the decision may be different.

Scorching the Earth – for Orgs

A View of the Desert with Barren Trees

I like change. Thankfully.

In this profession, if you’re not learning at a rapid rate, you decay. So you need to befriend change faster than anything else. Otherwise you cease to grow, or worst, miss a chance for an opportunity to grow.

That’s why I like Steve Rubel’s recent change of strategy in blogging. He calls it a scorched earth policy. Essentially, he blew up his two old blogs – one on Posterous and one on Typepad – in favor of his new Tumblr account. Both old domains redirect to this new site.

There, he posts a mix of long-form and short-form past, linking them naturally to his Twitter and Facebook accounts. He points to the future as one of the reasons for his move:

“I fundamentally believe that we are entering the next great era of the web – The Validation Era. In this age of too much content and not enough time, the public will increasingly need to hear things validated across four interconnected media clovers that are converging across four different screens – phones, tablets, PCs and TVs. To be successful, businesses and individuals will need to continually ensure their engagement spans the media cloverleaf.

The move makes sense for Rubel. He makes a living off advising clients on how to excel (and take risks) in the digital media world. How can he stand behind his words if he’s not living them?

But for Organizations?

But would this make sense for a nonprofit or corporation?

For most: probably not, and Rubel says so in his post. But the whole strategy brings up a few interesting points worth mentioning:

  1. You shouldn’t put anything out there that you don’t want found or wouldn’t mind losing. No system is perfect. If it’s important, back it up. If it’s supplemental content, put your best stuff forward and let it ride.
  2. Have a unique strategy for each channel or “cloverleaf.” Make sure you’re taking advantage of the strengths of each channel or platform.
  3. Where’s your audience? Probably here and there. Listen to them. What do they need?
  4. Look at the data. What does it say? Maybe things are lagging. Perhaps a change this drastic is in order.

So can it or something like it make sense for you or your organization? Maybe. That depends if you’re willing to scorch the earth in true fashion – you do that and just mind lead to fresh, new growth.

That’s a change I can always get behind.

Image by Pinzino.