Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Quick Note About My Post Frequency

July 31, 2014 Comments off

Just a note: I’m going to be reworking my post schedule a bit.

For the most part, I’ve generally been able to stick to one post a month, usually in the last few days of the month. Lately, though, I feel like it hasn’t been working particularly well.

Normally, deadlines make me more productive, but when it comes to this blog, they don’t help for some reason. I think they’re even making things works. For instance, my April post was late, and last month’s post was more like a blog maintenance note that was padded out to a full post because I couldn’t think of anything else.

I’m going to do some experimenting to try to find a rhythm that works better. I have no intention of giving up the blog altogether, but I don’t think I’ll be sticking to a rigid schedule either. I have an idea lined up for my next post, so I’ll start with that and see where it leads.

Thanks for reading!

Categories: Blogging

I Just Don’t Blog on Blogger Anymore

June 29, 2014 Comments off

Several years ago, when I first decided I needed a blog, I decided to try an experiment: I’d sign up for both WordPress and Blogger and use both in parallel for a while to see which one I liked better. Eventually, had things gone according to plan, I would have written a post comparing and contrasting the two services. At that point I would have picked whichever one I liked the most, imported all the posts and comments from the loser to the winner, and stuck with a single platform from then on.

Part of the reason that failed was that I just didn’t blog that often. I’ve managed roughly one post every month since May of 2012, but before that, I just didn’t blog enough to be getting useful data about what I liked and didn’t like about each platform. The experiment, if I’d been intent on doing it right, would have required me to produce a lot of content. In reality, though, I generally avoided writing unless I had something I really wanted to get off my chest.

Of course, I did eventually start blogging more or less regularly, so that can’t be the only reason. I can think of a few others.

The primary reason is that I tried to keep similar posts on the same blog. If I wrote a follow-up post, it went on the same blog as the earlier post that inspired it. If I wrote several posts that shared a category, they went on the same blog, so people looking at the category could actually see the whole category, and not miss half of it because they didn’t know they needed to search two different blogs. This tactic, combined with the fact that I don’t write about too many different topics, resulted in my sticking mainly with WordPress.

This caused a couple of secondary effects. First, when people started finding my posts and following them, it was on the blog where most of the posts actually were. Second, since I was using WordPress more than Blogger, I wound up getting used to it and became more comfortable with it. These days, on the rare occasions when I log into Blogger, I feel just a bit out of place.

Of course, it isn’t entirely by accident that I went with WordPress. There are some ways I prefer it over Blogger.

Probably the biggest one is—or was—Blogger’s unfortunate habit of translating paragraph breaks to pairs of line breaks. I could use the

tag all I wanted in the editor’s HTML view, but Blogger would strip it out and replace it with

. I can be a bit picky about using the right HTML element for the right job, so this was a big annoyance. I just tested it, though, and apparently this is no longer the case. If this change had occurred before I got used to WordPress, things might have turned out differently. On the other hand, even now it seems to have replaced my

s with single
s, but that may be a quirk of the WYSIWYG editor. Either way I don’t feel like dealing with it.

I also like that WordPress has syntax highlighting for source code built-in. It’s possible to add it to blogger, but it takes some up-front work and using it isn’t as elegant. (I normally don’t mind a little up-front work, but not if I can get the same or better results without it.)

One more little thing I like about Wordpesss is that it lets me organize posts into categories and subcategories, whereas Blogger only has tags. I don’t really see the need for WordPress to have categories and tags, but on the other hand it’s nice to have the options.

That’s not to say that Blogger doesn’t have its advantages. For one thing, it’s a lot more customizable. It only has a handful of templates, compared to the hundreds WordPress has, but there’s a great deal that can be done to customize a Blogger template. Blogger even allows for the addition of custom HTML and CSS to the templates, and it doesn’t charge for it. (As far as I can tell, charges a fee for custom CSS and doesn’t allow custom HTML at all.)

I also appreciated that Blogger’s HTML view showed me the actual HTML, or at least something a bit closer than WordPress did. Even though Blogger used to modify my paragraph breaks, it would at least show me the resulting
tags. WordPress, on the other hand, replaced my

tags with a pair of line breaks in the editor, but in the actual post they’d still show up as p elements.

There’s also the fact that Blogger is owned by Google and uses the same unified Gmail/Google+ account used by all Google services. Whether that’s a point in favor of Blogger or against it will depend on your opinion of Google, but there’s something to be said for not having to manage yet another username and password.

I suppose this will have to suffice for that comparison post I said I was going to write.

As for the future of this blog, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and move everything over to I’m importing all the posts and comments (or lack thereof) from Blogger to WordPress. I’ll also be removing the “My other blog” widget from WordPress and renaming the one on Blogger to indicate that WordPress is where all the current content is. Once I’m finished, WordPress will be (for the time being, at least) the canonical home of this blog.

Categories: Blogging Tags: , ,

A Year of Monthly Blogging: What Have I Learned?

May 28, 2013 Comments off

It was last May that I decided to start blogging on a more-or-less regular basis, and wrote up a post with some modest goals. Now it’s may again, which seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at the last year of blog posts. Even before I started working on this post, I noticed some patterns emerging.

One thing I noticed is that I have a tendency of taking a topic and milking it for multiple posts. Probably the most egregious example was Windows 8, but I did the same thing with Google and one or two others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but since I only post once a month, it means that I can end up spending a big chunk of the year focused on one thing.

Something else I find myself doing, which I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do, is let posts turn into overly long and detailed affairs that I insist on getting perfectly polished before letting them go. Being so much of a perfectionist that I can’t just let things be done is a bad habit of mine. Going on and on because I can’t bear to cut things is another; even when I’m not rambling, my writing still often has way too much going on. I think my posts over the last year have done a better job of dealing with these problems than writing I’ve done in the past, but I still have a long way to go. These bad habits correspond to two of my four stated goals from last May, but I haven’t really fixed them yet.

By the way, I count these two habits as one issue (roughly) because of they way the combine. I can’t kill my darlings, but instead insist on letting them pile up, and then I insist on making them all perfect, which causes me to think of yet more ideas I want to include, and of course those have to be perfect, too… It’s a vicious cycle.

Which brings me to yet another bad habit: Lateness. When I first started, I didn’t have much difficulty cranking out a post in one or two sittings, then maybe making another pass later to take care of rough edges. Now, though, I end up taking so long—both because of the above habits and because of simple procrastination—that the posts are always done much later than I’d intended to finish them. The last post was the worst: It went up less than an hour before midnight on the last day of the month; I almost failed in my goal to publish a post per month (unless you count the April Fools thing, but that was written ages ago and put on a timer). I really need to work on being more timely.

I am pleased, however, that despite my procrastination, I did not fail to make at least one post per month. I tend to work better when I have a deadline, because that way I can’t keep polishing things up forever. I still need to work on this, but I’ve definitely done better this year than previous years.

I also think I’m doing okay with my post titles. I normally have a hard time naming things, which is why my blog just has my own name at the top of it, but the decision to avoid catchy or clever post titles in favor of clear and informative ones seems to be working for me.

Going back over that post from last year, I noticed one last issue: My intention was to follow Jeff Atwood’s approach by making each post just a bit better than the last one. However, I haven’t really been making a conscious effort to improve my writing. Sure, I’ve tried to make each post good, but I haven’t focused on improvement.
So what now? I don’t have a solid plan yet, but I do have some ideas:

  • Start planning ahead. This should help with both the length and the lateness.
  • Be willing to prune posts to keep them brief and on-point; don’t get caught up in tangents.
  • Set intermediate deadlines to counteract procrastination.
  • Set a goal for each post. Try improve on something that was lacking in previous posts.
  • If recycling topics continues to be a problem, try to have something new to post in addition to the follow-up.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Blogging

Ultimate Blog Success Without Pollution?

May 24, 2012 Comments off

I’ve recently gotten inspired to start blogging. I don’t mean like back in October 2010, when I was inspired to sign up for WordPress and Blogger accounts and play around with them. I mean I’m inspired to get serious about it. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to be able to crank out a few blog posts every day, or even a blog post every few days. But it does mean I’m going to try to stick to a schedule and have something to deliver on a more-or-less regular basis.

What set me on this path was a post I read on Jeff Atwood’s blog, Coding Horror, called “How To Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step”:

When people ask me for advice on blogging, I always respond with yet another form of the same advice: pick a schedule you can live with, and stick to it. Until you do that, none of the other advice I could give you will matter. I don’t care if you suck at writing. I don’t care if nobody reads your blog. I don’t care if you have nothing interesting to say. If you can demonstrate a willingness to write, and a desire to keep continually improving your writing, you will eventually be successful.

This worked for him because:

Not every post was that great, but I invested a reasonable effort in each one. Every time I wrote, I got a little better at writing. Every time I wrote, I learned a little more about the topic, how to research topics effectively, where the best sources of information were. Every time I wrote, I was slightly more plugged in to the rich software development community all around me. Every time I wrote, I’d get a morsel of feedback or comments that I kept rolling up into future posts. Every time I wrote, I tried to write something just the tiniest bit better than I did last time.

Of course, Atwood’s schedule was six posts per week, whereas mine is more like one or two per month. Still, I think the concept still applies: Practice and get better.

So far, so good, until I came across something in Jakob Nielsen’s excellent Alertbox column: The “Information Pollution” article contains a bit of advice that seems to run counter to Atwood’s:

Let’s clean up our information environment. Are you saying something that benefits your customers, or simply spewing word count? If users don’t need it, don’t write it. Stop polluting now.

What does this mean? Should I follow Atwood’s advice and keep posting, even if a given post isn’t good, in the hopes of getting better? Or should I follow Nielsen’s advice and not write something unless I feel it really needs to be written?

Now, let me qualify that a bit: I realize that since I’m writing a personal blog, I’m not exactly the target audience Nielsen had in mind. In fact, his follow-up on how to avoid information pollution focuses mostly on e-mail and is geared toward workplace behavior.

Even so, it’s just as much a concern for me and my blog as it is for someone writing for a corporate Web site. After all, I don’t want someone who finds this blog to have to comb through a bunch of useless posts to find something helpful or interesting. I definitely don’t want to waste the time of people who find my blog in search results or pingback lists only to find out I’d barely touched on the topic they wanted.

For example, when I posted my piece on SOPA, a link to that post became a response under an article to which I posted a link.When I discovered this, it dawned on me that I hadn’t really added anything to the conversation beyond “Look, I’m talking about this, too!” Readers who came via that link probably left with the impression that I have nothing to say, or at least nothing important.

The good news is that Nielsen’s follow-up has good advice, and much of it is applicable to everyone, bloggers included. He summarizes it like this:

Better prioritization, fewer interruptions, and concentrated information that’s easy to find and manage helps people become more productive and stop wasting their colleagues’ time.

The three pieces of advice I think are most applicable to me are “set priorities,” Write informative subject lines,” and “Write short.” I can handle that. Of course, as Atwood says, none of that advice matters if I don’t start writing.

So here’s my game plan:

  1. Commit to writing at least one blog post per month.
  2. Focus on the most important things I want to say, and be okay with letting some of the other things be less polished.
  3. Worry less about catchy or clever titles, and more about letting readers know what to expect from each post.
  4. Know when it’s time to finish a post, instead of letting it get so overgrown that even if I ever finish writing it, no one will want to read it.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Blogging